Sometimes after mass, my husband, Blaze, and I would act out the Gospel story of the day with our then four year old daughter, Maire. One Sunday, when the reading had been about Martha and Mary, we talked about the story a little bit in the car, and when we got home, we decided who would be who. Maire wanted to be St. Mary of course.
Blaze, being the only fellow, would play the part of Jesus, and I would be St. Martha.
Blaze sat in the rocking chair and little Maire sat on a pillow at his feet. He was saying that everyone should be nice and share, and love each other and love God, and Maire was laughing at his good natured over simplification of the tenets of the Gospel, said in his goofy “acting” voice, as if Jesus took after Bullwinkle a little.
In the kitchen I was smiling listening to them, trying to get into my part. What mother does not understand Martha’s flustered annoyance and sense of injustice, when she was so busy and stressed out, pouring herself into her work, trying to make sure all was perfect, while everyone else, especially her own sister, just sat around and took the feast for granted?
I started banging around the pots and pans in the kitchen – not that I ever do anything like that, of course, and I am sure you never do either.
“What’s that?” Jesus said to his friend St. Mary. “What’s wrong with her?” Mary just kept smiling and listening and that made Martha even more mad!
“LORD! ” she said, stomping up to the pair with a serving spoon in her hand, “Don’t you see that I am freaking out in the kitchen with all this work for all these people in the house, and all this serving and cooking to do? Tell my sister to help me!”
Jesus got up with a sympathetic look on his sweet face, and gave Martha an understanding hug, saying, “Martha, Martha, you are stressed out and worried about so many things!” Martha is charmed by the understanding words, but she still thinks to herself, “Dang right, I am!” But then Jesus looks her in the eyes and says, “Only one thing is necessary, though. Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her.”
Martha is stunned and embarrassed since she sees what he means. She’s been a little crazy and all the crazy was really about herself and her flustered pride.
Jesus goes off to watch TV.
“No Daddy! That’s not the end of the story!”
“It ISN’T?!” he asks incredulously. “I thought we did the whole thing. We did, right?” he asks Martha, who is still standing in her place.
I smile and give him a look that says, “Let’s see what’s going on here.” So we ask Maire to show us how the story ends.
Bright eyed and pleased, little St. Mary leads Jesus back to his rocking chair and he sits down expectantly. St. Martha is told to go back to the kitchen and “be upset” again.
Martha is in the kitchen now, thinking that maybe what she should do is stop feeling embarrassed and just start doing what she should have done to begin with; relax and do all she is doing with freedom of heart, with love and grace, when Mary comes into the kitchen and hugs her around the legs. “It’s OK, Martha. Come in here.” Mary leads her sister, Martha back into the living room to handsome Jesus, and has her sit down on the pillow she had been sitting on.
“There, Martha, YOU listen to Jesus for a while. I will go finish the cooking.” She pats Martha, who hands her a glass of iced tea she had been about to serve, and runs off to the kitchen.
Jesus and Martha can only look at Mary with wonder.
This, they think, is inspired stuff- a beautiful, loving ending to the story that makes total Gospel sense. Maybe it was that way. The sisters trade places with love. What could please Jesus more? True, the better part cannot be taken, but it can be given.
As St. Teresa of Avila said,
…believe me, both Martha and Mary must join together to entertain our Lord and keep Him as their Guest, nor must they be so inhospitable as to offer Him no food. How can Mary do this while she sits at His feet, if her sister does not help her?”
“God places more value on good will in all we do than on the works themselves. Therefore whether we give ourselves to God in the work of contemplation, or whether we serve the needs of our neighbor by good works, we accomplish these things because the love of Christ urges us on. The acceptable spiritual offering… is made … in the deep recesses of the heart, where the Lord Jesus freely enters.” ~ St. Lawrence Justinian
Happy feast day to St. Martha, and may she pray for us that we might both serve with love, and listen with joy.
*Midrash: “Midrash is commonly defined as the process of interpretation by which the rabbis filled in “gaps” found in the Torah. It is a literature that seeks to ask the questions that lie on the tips of our tongues, and to answer them even before we have posed them.” from myjewishlearning.com
- This story (minus Maire’s ending) is found in Luke 10:38-42