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Bible Reflections View Comments

Are We Too Busy to Hear the Lord?
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, July 21, 2013
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In today’s Gospel we hear the familiar story of Mary and Martha, the two sisters who, along with their brother, Lazarus, welcome Jesus into their home in Bethany. This family must have been particularly close to Jesus. We also see them in John’s Gospel, when Lazarus dies and Martha and Mary confront Jesus over his late arrival. In both stories, the sisters are both clearly familiar enough with Jesus to be able to speak to him directly.

This story offers scholars a look at cultural conventions of the time—and ways in which Jesus was willing to bend those conventions in service of the Gospel. They talk about how Mary, in assuming the listening role of a disciple, probably scandalized onlookers because such a role was reserved for men. They say Jesus is affirming that Mary had the right to assume that role.

But there’s more to the story than a lesson in first-century Palestinian culture, or a debate over gender-specific roles. The story of Mary and Martha can be set in our own kitchens and living rooms—or factory floors and corporate offices. My sister and I have a running joke that she’s Martha and I’m Mary. When either one of us uses the name, it speaks volumes. She might be telling me to get something done. I might be telling her to take time to relax.

Many of us have had Martha’s experience of feeling as though someone else was getting away with not carrying their fair share of the load. It might be a sibling not helping with dishes—or the care of elderly parents. It might be a coworker who takes everyone else’s ideas and presents them as original thoughts to much praise—and compensation. It might be someone who consistently shirks difficult tasks with one excuse or another.

It’s easy to sympathize with Martha and to be shocked at Jesus’s admonition that Mary had chosen the better part. Our busyness becomes its own rationalization. When we’re busy, we feel like our lives have more value. When we’re busy, we don’t have to be available to help others. When we’re busy, we don’t have to listen to God asking us to do something different. Jesus tells Martha, “You are worried and anxious about many things.” Most likely he would tell us the same thing. When we find ourselves feeling stressed by demands and expectations, we might ask how many of those things are truly essential in the larger picture. If we can do this, we will discover for ourselves what it means to choose the better part.

Today’s first reading from Genesis shows us that Abraham was every bit as busy as Martha in providing hospitality for his visitors, but he did it with ease and a lack of anxiety. Perhaps we can learn from him to do what we’re doing without worrying about other people’s expectations or contributions. Like Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, he was focused on the one thing necessary at the time. And in doing so, he was creating a restful oasis for his visitors. And the Lord blessed his efforts.

Our world needs both Martha’s activity and Mary’s prayerful attention to the word of God. The former doesn’t need to be restless and anxious; the latter doesn’t need to be passive. We will be at our best when we can suit our personalities to the needs of the moment, always being attentive to the Lord’s deepest desire for our lives.


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Joachim and Anne: In the Scriptures, Matthew and Luke furnish a legal family history of Jesus, tracing ancestry to show that Jesus is the culmination of great promises. Not only is his mother’s family neglected, we also know nothing factual about them except that they existed. Even the names <i>Joachim</i> and <i>Anne</i> come from a legendary source written more than a century after Jesus died. 
<p>The heroism and holiness of these people, however, is inferred from the whole family atmosphere around Mary in the Scriptures. Whether we rely on the legends about Mary’s childhood or make guesses from the information in the Bible, we see in her a fulfillment of many generations of prayerful persons, herself steeped in the religious traditions of her people. </p><p>The strong character of Mary in making decisions, her continuous practice of prayer, her devotion to the laws of her faith, her steadiness at moments of crisis, and her devotion to her relatives—all indicate a close-knit, loving family that looked forward to the next generation even while retaining the best of the past. </p><p>Joachim and Anne—whether these are their real names or not—represent that entire quiet series of generations who faithfully perform their duties, practice their faith and establish an atmosphere for the coming of the Messiah, but remain obscure.</p> American Catholic Blog My hope is that my children reach beyond me in character. I don’t want to be their moral ceiling. That makes me responsible to guide and discipline them in directions I don’t always follow. And above all, to show them mercy for their human frailty, as I ask them to show me that same mercy for mine.

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