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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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Apollonia: The persecution of Christians began in Alexandria during the reign of the Emperor Philip. The first victim of the pagan mob was an old man named Metrius, who was tortured and then stoned to death. The second person who refused to worship their false idols was a Christian woman named Quinta. Her words infuriated the mob and she was scourged and stoned. 
<p>While most of the Christians were fleeing the city, abandoning all their worldly possessions, an old deaconess, Apollonia, was seized. The crowds beat her, knocking out all of her teeth. Then they lit a large fire and threatened to throw her in it if she did not curse her God. She begged them to wait a moment, acting as if she was considering their requests. Instead, she jumped willingly into the flames and so suffered martyrdom.</p><p>There were many churches and altars dedicated to her. Apollonia is the patroness of dentists, and people suffering from toothache and other dental diseases often ask her intercession. She is pictured with a pair of pincers holding a tooth or with a golden tooth suspended from her necklace. St. Augustine explained her voluntary martyrdom as a special inspiration of the Holy Spirit, since no one is allowed to cause his or her own death.</p> American Catholic Blog We can find Christ among the despised, voiceless, and forgotten of the world. We have to move beyond that which we wish to ignore and forget about: embrace the seemingly un-embraceable, love the unlovable, and dare to know what we most fear and wish to leave unknowable.

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