This coming 22nd and 29th, the Church honors the two subjects of our gospel this Sunday. Martha and Mary, who were sisters and friends of Jesus. They invited Jesus to their house so that He could get some needed R & R. The hosts had different roles to play. Martha did all of the dirty work: cooking and cleaning, etc. Mary supplied the chit-chat. Martha thought that the arrangement should be more equitable with Mary responsible for more chores and less gab: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” Jesus wisely skirted the issue: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part of it and it will not be taken from her.” (Could you see Martha thinking to herself: “Fine, then you can all starve and find your own accommodations…I am going to sit it out too.”…But, you know what…that is exactly the point! We tend to forget: “I came to serve…not to be served.”)
The key question is this – what exactly was the part of Jesus that Mary was choosing? When St. Luke wrote that Mary sat at the foot of Jesus, he was not describing her posture but her relationship to him. “To sit at the feet” of someone meant to be that person’s disciple. Jesus had come to call all people, women equally with men, children as well as adults…even those who were considered sinners. They were all eligible for discipleship. Jesus insisted that Mary had chosen the better part of Him. She had made the right choice. Of course, someone had to prepare the meal if they were ever going to get something to eat. Jesus wanted Martha to be His disciple too, even if she spent a lot of her time in the kitchen.
Martha and Mary represent all of the women of the Church. They can also serve as a role model for men, because we all have the same calling, to offer the Lord the warm hospitality that He had experienced in the Bethany home of Martha and Mary, to listen to Him as intently as Mary had, to make Him the priority of our lives as Martha had, and to allow nothing and no one to deprive us of our relationship with Him. In the first reading this week, the prophet Abraham proved himself to be a highly gracious host (like Martha and Mary would later be). He provided hospitality to three strangers who turned out to be Angels, preparing for them a fine meal of beef, rolls, curds, and milk. Like Abraham, Martha and Mary…we must provide hospitality for the Lord.
At Mass we “sit at the feet” of Jesus the Christ…Right? We focus our attention on Him, hear His words in faith, absorb it and apply it to our lives…right? Then we are nourished with a Sacred Food, the Eucharist, which is prepared, not by Martha or Abraham, but by Jesus, Himself (the Real Host of the party). Some of us may find the example of Mary difficult to imitate. (After all, the busy work of Martha is physically hard…but mentally easy.) We can allow the preoccupations of daily living to distract us from hearing and following the teachings of Jesus. There is a temptation to let the false values of this society turn aside the truths of our Catholic Faith. At Sunday Mass we “sit at the feet” of Jesus. This wee bit of a church becomes our Bethany, the place where we learn to become true disciples of Jesus.