Growing up, and even sometimes now, it has always been “Mary, Mary, Mary”.
Mary chose the better part. Mary sat and listened. Mary didn’t rush around stressed out about company and all the stuff that needed to get done. Mary knew her place. Mary had her priorities in order. Mary was HOLY. And that Martha… well, she’s busy. And just a little bit rude.
In Luke Chapter 10, you can see it. Jesus comes into his friends’ home, weary and tired from traveling. He sits. Mary sinks to the floor at his feet. Both sisters are glad to have him there. They react in different ways. Mary is pensive, Martha is active. Mary sits, listens, watches. Martha plans, hurries, worries. And complains. And gets a kind-hearted reminder from her friend Jesus.
We can only imagine the closeness of Mary, Martha and Jesus. Mary, Jesus’ mother, gently reminded Him at a wedding a few years before that there was no wine, but Martha, oh Martha, she just comes right out and, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.”
We almost want to jump in and cover her mouth before she says it. Each time it’s read at Mass, or in a private prayer time, we secretly hope that maybe this time she’ll just hold her tongue. But she never does. She’s so real. No pretenses. So life-like and vibrant that we can almost feel her hurried footsteps to the kitchen ruffling the Bible’s pages.
left me all by myself.
to do all the serving.
What woman has not thought these things. cried out these very same pleas to God.
But still, we all want to say we’re Mary.
Yes, of course. I’d be the one sitting and listening calmly. Not concerned over the menial daily needs of fixing dinner, setting the table, kneading bread. All that to the wind. Jesus is here. I’m sitting at his feet. No distractions, no fretting, no preoccupations, no worries.
Jesus even tells her, clear as day, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”
With that praise, who wouldn’t want to be Mary? So for many years I’ve done my best to convince myself that I’m Mary. Over and over.
Oh, but we ALL know. There’s no freaking way.
We love Mary, she has chosen the better part that day. We cross our fingers and hope we might be her. All our lives, we try to inch closer and closer to our calm, pensive sister. But some of us, by nature, are Martha. That’s just a fact. A fact we may not want to admit.
But this Sunday, I was finally okay with saying it out loud. This Sunday, the Gospel reading was the story of Lazarus. I’ve heard it dozens of times. But missed things, I guess, over the years. Things that might have been nice to pay attention to. Or maybe I just didn’t know myself yet. Anyway.
Lazarus, their brother, has died. A few days back. Mary and Martha send for Jesus. And they wait. For several days. Because Jesus has something more to prove than just comforting two mourning sisters.
Scripture says, “When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home.”
Friends and family were there, comforting the mourning women. They had company. Their attentions were held. But now it is Martha’s turn to drop everything. But she does not sit. She does not wait. She goes. She hears Jesus is on His way and she’s out the door in a flash. Hasty, determined, a little brazen. But focused.
And then she finds Him. There is no, “Lord, Lord have mercy on me a humble servant”. No hiding behind distant bushes or climbing of sycamore trees. No sending of a servant or calling out from a distance. No, she is there and she is direct. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. [But] even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”
You were late, Jesus. You could have prevented ALL of this. I don’t understand so I’ve run out to meet you. But I know you. You are the Messiah, and whatever you ask of God, He will give you.
I bet she’s looking Him right in the eye. Hands on her hips. She’s probably shaking with fervor, panting from her run. Martha, Mary and Jesus remind me of siblings, so common to each other that they don’t even bother with niceties.
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise.” Martha said to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”
He tells her straight up his plan. No dilly-dallying. No parables. No asking for food. No drawing in the sand. He knows her; he knows to skip past her quirks and personality. She wants answers. So he tells her. More than she even asks for. “Your brother will rise.” And then asks her, “Who am I?” He goes beyond the present moment to the bigger picture. Yes, your brother will rise. But ALL can rise! So he keeps going. He asks, “Do you believe this?” And she tells him. She knows, despite herself, despite her hastiness, her days filled with so much serving of others that she has to complain to someone. In spite of ALL of this, she knows who He is. She believes. Very clearly. Yes, Lord.
A short while later, they walk all together to the tomb of Lazarus.
Jesus tells the people to roll away the stone. And Martha, Martha, Martha, as our priest noted during his homily this weekend, “Captain Obvious”, says,
“Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?”
Can you SEE the look in His eyes? Maybe he lowers his head and raises up his eyebrows. Maybe He grabs her by the chin. “Have you been listening?” He gives her that look. We, those of us like Martha, we know that look.
And the stone is moved, and the man is raised. And Jesus is one step closer to His cross.
So here, in these pages, I finally see myself. One with whom I completely relate. And I’m not ashamed. She’s not so bad, after all. Jesus loves her. Just as much as Mary.
I have finally found a woman who is me. Oh, Martha. You’re imperfect. You don’t always pay attention to the right things. You get caught up in the craziness of life. In all the duties, the to-do lists, the homework and the bills that stack up over and over again. You sometimes feel alone. With no one to help you. Serving and serving and serving and wondering if anyone is even paying attention.
And maybe they’re not. But it doesn’t really matter. We know that everything will be okay, in the end. All us Marthas.
Because, there are those times, those rare moments when we DO drop everything. Leave the people wondering. Leave the door hanging wide open as we run to You. Knowing exactly what we need. Knowing that there is a task to do, a statement to be made, a plea to be heard. We may not always say the right thing. We might be out of breathe. We might blab something completely idiotic. We often embarrass ourselves. We might be bossy, telling you how it should be. We might complain, anxious and worried about many things. We might be slow learners, but we do know you. We love you! And we’re willing to come to you with it ALL. There is need of only one thing.
Martha, my sister, I’ve been you all along.
St. Martha, pray for me.