Today is the memorial of one of my favourite saints, Martha of Bethany: sister of Lazarus and Mary, hostess extraordinaire and professional worrier. I wrote this post last year but in honour of Martha, I’m re-blogging an edited version.
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 the Gospel about Martha and Mary, 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. She’s also 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 my two youngest children 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. For me, evening prayer is prayed much later when somewhere in the world, it’s still 6:00 pm.
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.
So what’s 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.
It seems to me that the lesson, the “better part” for all Marthas is this: 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.
Martha shows that she finally learned the lesson when, upon the death of her brother Lazarus, she professed to Jesus: “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” (John 11:27) And I’ll bet she still had time to make dinner.
Father, your Son honored Saint Martha by coming to her home as a guest. By her prayers may we serve Christ in our brothers and sisters and be welcomed by you into heaven, our true home. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Liturgy of the Hours, Morning Prayer on the memorial of St. Martha)
St. Martha, pray for us.