Martha, Martha! You worry and fret!

Today as Church we celebrate the feastday of St. Martha.It is not just a celebration for us but she is venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox churches, and commemorated by the Lutheran Church and the Anglican Communion. Personally, I always feel that Martha gets a bit of a raw deal, something like St. Thomas. She is remembered for fussing about and being anxious and yet we forget that hers was a great acclamation of faith “I believe that you are the Lord, the one who is to come”. This is quite similar to St. Thomas who is renowned for his disbelief and wanting to touch the wounds of Christ before He would believe. Yet from him we have one of the most poignant prayers, “My Lord and my God”.

As we reflect upon the Bethany scene of Mary and Martha, with Martha being somewhat admonished for fretting and worrying, Jesus says to her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part.” There is the risk to look at Mary and Martha and see which one am I! For years, I was convinced I was more of a ‘Martha’. But wait, these women are not supposed to be a quasi-Enneagram test or a Myer-Briggs or some other personality test. It is not a case of The Martha Syndrome and the Mary Solution. Both attitudes of these women are required with omitting the other.

The English dictionary defines hospitality as "the friendly treatment of guests or strangers; an act or show of welcome." That's not too far from how the New Testament Greek word (philo-xenia) breaks down—love of strangers. But why did Jesus call Martha to change what she was doing? Martha was running about trying to figure out how everybody is going to get fed and coordinating the logistics of cooking for all the people. Can this be a case where Martha is so busy serving Jesus that she is not paying attention to Jesus? Her attention has been distracted off the one thing that is most important. Could we become so busy serving God that we are distracted and we just don't listen to Him? However Jesus was not a stranger to Martha and He wanted her in his presence. She was a gift to Him, not just what she did but who she was. Yes, the food was important for Jesus but He wanted her to be with Him with her presence. Jesus wants us present to Him, completely focused in the moment—no mobile phone, no TV, no Internet, no distractions. And He wants us to be present in this way to those around us. Try it, you will see it makes marked difference in the lives of the people around you.

Martha appears ‘worried’ as Jesus notes. This word, worried, is the Greek verb merimnao, often alternatively translated as “to be anxious.” Jesus used the same word later in Luke when he told his disciples “Do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. . . . For all these thing the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things.” Yet as we look at our lives, are we anxious? About our future? Our family? Our health? In whose hands do we place our lives?

This passage calls us to look at hospitality. How do we entertain and welcome people into our lives and our homes, our places of work and prayer? Hospitality was regarded by most nations of the ancient world as one of the chief virtues. The real practice of hospitality makes people feel they belong. It makes people feel special, important, and and warmly welcomed into your life - not just your home! It's receiving strangers like they are family, and communicating through your words and actions that they are well worth your time and effort. When I was in Canada, I had some beautiful opportunities to experience the hospitality of friends who opened up their homes to me and other friends. When you are living in a place which is not your own convent or family home, it is nice to be a guest in a place where it feels like family and get to know the people better. This is what Jesus wanted to experience with Martha and to let her rest in the company of her Friend and her Lord. Loss of focus can be cured by refocusing on JESUS! Unless we focus on Jesus we will focus on something else.

So as we continue to honour St. Martha, we give thanks for her hospitality and her generous service. There are many Martha’s in the world. I recall seeing a book before entitled ‘Having a Mary heart in a Martha world’. Once more, we are not being asked to play off one against the other, moreso to look at the virtues which both women held within and which marked their discipleship. In our own Congregation, we are called to be contemplative in action and active in contemplation. We are called to be Mary and Martha in today’s world. What a great blessing this is!