The Martha in me – Thursday, 17th week in ordinary time – Lk 10:38-42

I grew up thinking that Jesus wanted me to be always at his feet; after all Mary seems to have walked away with the praise, “she has chosen the better part.” But being a chef by profession made me unhappy with the response of Jesus; labouring over a hot grill is no easy task and if both had to sit at Jesus’ feet then who would feed the Lord?  

So I am not going to focus this reflection on the ‘apparent’ praise of Mary but to critique the Martha in us. To merely assume that this is a case of one better than the other would do a great injustice to the role that Martha played. After all, both prayer and good works are essential to Christian life.

So let’s look at the narrative as it appears. Jesus enters the house of Martha who welcomed Him, we are not told that Mary joined in the invitation but only that she chose to sit at Jesus’ feet. There are several breaches of Jewish protocol here. We are not told if the disciples are in the house with Jesus which makes His presence alone with two women an issue and even more since Martha and Mary are not His relatives. We are then told a woman desires to serve Jesus which would never be the case in a Jewish household. Finally, a woman sits at His feet as He teaches. She assumes the posture of a student learning at the feet of a rabbi, a role traditionally reserved for men.

Let us now examine the evidence in the narrative; is Jesus making a case for ‘prayer’ and not ‘work’ as many have come to assume? The key to this ‘misunderstanding’ is found in the description of Martha’s attitude to her work; she is DISTRACTED. The word distracted in Greek is periespato and has the connotation of being pulled or dragged in different directions. What is the cause of her ‘distraction’? Her sister Mary is not in the kitchen helping her prepare what could only be assumed to be a meal for the Master. Martha’s actions prevent her from being ‘present’ to Jesus through her work just as Mary was ‘present’ to Jesus as He spoke to her.

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