Misunderstood Martha

The gospel for Tuesday, October 9 was the one where Jesus was a dinner guest in the home of his good friends Lazarus, Martha and Mary.  Jesus gently rebuked Martha for being occupied with too many things while her sister, Mary, took the better part by sitting at the feet of Jesus.

In this world there are Marys and there are Marthas.  I have 8 children and I own a small business.  Guess which sister I am!

When I read this gospel, I always wonder if Mary did the after-dinner clean-up or did she just continue to sit?  Did she at least pass the bread and dried herbs or whatever else they ate at dinner or did she leave Martha to do it all?  And did anyone other than Jesus thank Martha or did they just eat the meal she single-handedly prepared?  She probably did all the planning and shopping for the meal too.

A good friend has 7  children, is a teacher, an artist and a PhD candidate.  She puts it this way.  “Well somebody’s got to cook dinner!”  Exactly!  Someone’s got to make dinner, pick the kids up from school, help with homework, drive to choir practice and swimming lessons, bring home a pay cheque, make sure the kids do their homework (dads do these things too, but let’s get real).  That someone is Martha.  Martha doesn’t have time to sit around and meditate or dinner will burn and the kids will freak out because she forgot to pick them up from school on her way home from work after dealing with bumper-to-bumper traffic and road construction.

Give Martha a break, will ya?  She’s the one who makes sure your socks match coming out of the dryer.

Every day, I pray my Breviary – morning prayer and evening prayer.  Morning prayer is not a problem since I’m an early riser and I enjoy the quiet and stillness of early morning.  It’s the perfect time to talk to God before the day begins.

Evening prayer, which is typically prayed between 4:30 pm and 6:00 pm is a different story.  That’s the time when I have to drive #7 and #8 to choir practice, make dinner, listen to all the kids talk about their day as they come home………you get the picture.  I don’t have the luxury of sneaking away for 15 minutes for quiet (??) contemplation and reflection.  It ain’t gonna happen!  For me, evening prayer is prayed much later when somewhere in the world, it’s still 6:00 pm.

So what’s a Martha to do?  First of all, I don’t think Jesus rebuked her for running around cooking dinner.  Even Jesus had to eat, after all.  I think He was telling her that even as she was carrying out the necessary tasks of meal preparation, she still had to be centered on the Word of God.   She had to see her work as an offering and not just a task that had to be completed. Work as prayer; not work as an end in itself.

Maybe Martha didn’t start and end her day with prayer.  Maybe she didn’t take small moments during the day to re-connect with God.  Maybe she whipped herself up into such a frenzy over everything that had to be done that she lost sight of the valued relationships in her life – the people who mattered more than the gourmet meal, the painstakingly washed laundry and the meticulously swept floors.

Maybe that’s what Jesus was telling her.  Don’t make the results of the task the goal to be reached.  Use the task as a prayer to reach the ultimate goal:  the eternal gourmet banquet with the Father, Son and Holy  Spirit.

Deo Gratias

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13 Responses to Misunderstood Martha

  1. What a wonderful perspective! Being a Catholic myself, I thoroughly enjoyed reading “Misunderstood Martha.” Excellent!

  2. reinkat says:

    I’ve heard a lot of homilies and read a lot of reflections about good old Martha, but this one really resonates. “even as she was carrying out the necessary tasks of meal preparation, she still had to be centered on the Word of God. She had to see her work as an offering and not just a task that had to be completed. Work as prayer; not work as an end in itself.” What a great insight! I thought about it while at work today, and it helped me get through the day.

  3. lilyboat says:

    I think I am rather like Mary and I can’t help but feeling a bit guilty! I see many Marthas in my world and I look up to them.. greatly. My sister is one good example and she has three kids..so I can only imagine how much more intense your life must be! blessings on you and more power to you!

  4. Mrs. Mackerelsnapper, OP says:

    I also like the perspective that Jesus wasn’t reprimanding her for working instead of sitting; He was reprimanding her for being bitter about her calling. I needed to be reminded of this, as I just spent 2h prepping schoolwork, lunch & dinner for DH to feed the kids while I’m away for medical stuff… and while I was working, DH was, well, let’s say he was snoring at the feet of Jesus. It was a struggle to do my work joyfully!

  5. Mr. V. says:

    Great post! We are lucky to have so many Marthas around. Where would we be without them?

  6. Your post mirrors the way of Brother Lawrence. A valid way to look at work as prayer.

  7. Very lovely and timely post for me! Thank you! 🙂

  8. SR says:

    I loved this!! From one Martha to the other, “God Bless you Sister!” I know I have been at holiday meals where it was me and one other person, while the others are sitting having a “good time.” My thoughts never went to, “Well bless their hearts!” It was more like, “If you do not get up off of your rear end, I am going to come and get you off of it!”
    I always wondered if Martha ever thought, “Fine go hungry.” Think about it, starting the fire, going and drawing water, cooking over intense heat, setting the table, and trying to make sure all was done so well. Probably baking bread on top of it. After all she did have the Lord in her house! I do not know if I would have been as “gracious” as she was, by saying nothing. Probably not, knowing me as I do:>)
    Great post and loved the way you brought it together at the end! God Bless, SR

  9. Excellent post! I always like to remind myself of what St. Francis of Rome said: “It is most laudable in a married woman to be devout, but she must never forget that she is a housewife. And sometimes she must leave God at the altar to find Him in her housekeeping.” To FIND HIM IN HER HOUSEKEEPING. I think instead of telling women not to be Martha’s, as I’ve been told before (Lord only knows why, because I don’t pretend to be any kind of an excellent housekeeper), but to remind them to find God in their daily tasks.

  10. Me says:

    Thank you for putting this in perspective for me again. A few years ago we had a priest give a homily on Martha. What I do for my family and guests, I do for God.

  11. All very true … BUT ,,,how much of the work that robs us of time to think really needs to be done when it is done? My wife suffers from the Martha Syndrome 🙂 too. I beg her to let me do some of the chores.
    Most of the time she tells me that I don’t do them well enough (Which suits me fine 🙂 I insist and get to do a bit of helping out anyway 😉 )
    It makes her tense and one of the first important things to suffer are he kids. It’s true that all her efforts are geared towards the kids, but let’s face it, what do kids care if their room is spick and span if their mother struggles to find the time to play with them.

    • I agree that priorities need to be set and there are more important things than having an impeccably clean house. However, I’m not sure we’re talking about the same thing. Martha was asking for help to complete a task that needed to be done – making dinner. She wasn’t pushing away people who wanted to help. it was her attitude to making dinner that needed changing, not the fact that she was making it, IMO.

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