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October 9, 2018 - Choosing the Better Part

Tuesday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

For a long time, I struggled with the story from Luke’s gospel that is before us today. Here we have a woman, Martha, who the text says has welcomed Jesus into her home and is hosting him. To host Jesus was surely a big deal, and she is stressed out about it. She is also clearly focused on the tasks before her, which have become a burden to her. And she is irritated by her sister, Mary, who instead of helping her out is hanging out with Jesus.

I have always found it easy to identify with Martha. Preparing to host a few friends can take the better part of the day for me, and I have indoor plumbing and modern kitchen appliances. Just thinking about doing something like that in Jesus’s day wipes me out. So, when she asks Jesus whether he cares that Mary isn’t helping her and commands Jesus to tell Mary to lend a hand, I have thought her request and command made sense. Surely, her sister should chip in and lighten the load. Why should Martha have to do all the work? And as Jesus was himself so attentive to the struggles and difficulties especially of women who often were burdened, forgotten, or not even seen, I thought he should say—darn right, Martha!

But that is not what he says. And the reason that I struggled with this story was that I was identifying with Martha in the wrong way. Yes, she is overburdened by her labor. And, yes, her sister who could lend a hand is nearby. But Jesus has something more important that he wants to do for her than lighten her load by calling her sister over to help. He wants to teach her.

One of the things he wants to teach her is that he sees her. He tells her that he knows she is anxious and worried about many things. To say that to her is to tell her that he has been watching her. She is not, as women often were in Jesus’s time, invisible to him. The second thing he wants to teach her is that she is focusing on the wrong things—her tasks, her burdens, her worries—and her sister has chosen the better part. That is a remarkable teaching given the culture of Jesus’s day wherein women were to be doing exactly what Martha was doing—cooking for and serving others, especially men. Mary was breaking the rules of her day by sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to his teaching. And Jesus wants Martha, and surely all the Marthas everywhere, to stop being consumed by all of the demands put upon them and listen to Jesus instead.

Jesus’ teaching to Martha is radical in that he is saying that he attends to all of us no matter who we are or where we sit on the social ladder. No one is invisible to Jesus. Even more, he is telling us that, however pressing our tasks or distracting our anxieties ,the better part is for us to take the time to listen to him even if that means we have to break a rule or frustrate a social expectation or fail to deliver on all the demands put upon us. May we live into the freedom Jesus offers all of us to follow him.

- Sue Trollinger