Saturday, February 9, 2013

Reflection on Martha and Mary

Here's a reflection I gave at the monastery for the Feast of St. Scholastica.  The Gospel reading for the feast day was about Martha and Mary.

Reflection:  February 9, 2013
Luke 10:38-42

    It’s always interesting to ask kids what they want to be when they grow up.  When I was a kid, there were lots of things I wanted to be.  It was just a matter of how to strategically fit everything together.  
One thing I thought I could be was a teacher.  My thinking was that teachers give the students the work to do.  So, I thought my day would end at 3:00.  I’d go home with nothing to do.  I’d also have long breaks and summers off.  Since I thought my afternoons and evenings would be free, I thought I could also be a newspaper reporter.  I’d travel around, see what was going on, and then write about it.  With my summers free, I thought I could be a farmer.  I imagined my uncles who were farmers as working during the summer and then having the rest of the year to sit around and watch T.V.  I’m glad my uncles aren’t around to hear me say this.  I also wanted to be an astronaut.  I wasn’t quite sure how to fit that in, but I thought, “Well, I still have my weekends open.  I also have Christmas break and spring break and the occasional snow day.”  I thought those times would be good times to be an astronaut.  So, teacher, newspaper reporter, farmer, and astronaut.  I had a plan, and I thought I could do it all.  I guess I was your stereotypical Martha.  
As a kid, I was a little O-D-D, odd.  I’d make to-do lists that included things like dust, vacuum, clean the bathroom, clean the kitchen.  You would think I was any parent’s dream.  I’d wake up on Saturday mornings and say, “Mom, what should I do?”  I would have done anything my mom would have asked.  Mop the floor.  Paint the house.  Build a carport.  I was only nine, but I was a precocious little kid.  
Every time I asked, “Mom, what should I do?” my mom always, always, always responded, “Catherine, go rest.”  All the time I was told to go rest.  My brother, on the other hand, my twin brother, never had to be told to go rest.  We were the exact opposite.  My mom would be after him 50 or 100 times to do one thing.  I remember one time my mom was after him for probably 2 or 3 days to mow the yard.  I would gladly have done it two days earlier, but I was told to go rest, and my brother was told he had to mow the yard that day.  And my mom meant business.      So, my brother mowed the yard . . . that day . . . in the dark.  It was night time by the time he finally got around to mowing the yard.  Because of this, he ended up mowing down some of the things I had in my garden.  Considering this happened approximately 20 years ago when we were about 15, I should probably let it go, but the Martha in me worked hard on that garden, and some of the things were knee high.  
Now, I have no doubt that I complained to my mom.  I complained directly to my brother, and I complained to everyone within a 5 mile radius.  I was only 15 and unable to drive.  Otherwise, I would have complained to a lot more people.  
“Mom, why can’t you do something?  Why can’t you fix him?  Why can’t he be more . . . I don’t know . . . more like me?”  I had all these great ideas of how things should be and no one ever listened.  
Did you notice in our Gospel that Martha also complained?  She didn’t complain to Mary; she complained to Jesus.  “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?  Tell her to help me,” (Luke 10:40).  Does this sound a little passive aggressive?  Instead of going to someone directly and communicating with them to try to understand them, we go to someone else and complain.  We want God or someone else to fix what we consider being a problem.  We fail to notice the actions we can take in the situation.  Maybe what we consider a problem isn’t really a problem.  Maybe it’s a lack of acceptance of someone because they are different.  Martha wanted Jesus to “fix” Mary, to set her straight, to make her more like her.  Martha was unable to accept Mary for who she was or for the decisions she was making.  
Jesus tells Martha, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.  There is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken away from her,” (Luke 10:41-42).   Had Martha lost her focus of why she was doing her work in the first place?  Are we, too, so focused on what we are doing that we fail to recognize Jesus in our midst?  One thing I tell my students in the choir is that singing is not their main purpose for being in the choir.  Their main purpose is to praise God, and one way they can do that is by singing.  
What was Martha’s main purpose for the work she was doing?  Was she wanting to feel needed, important, worthy, loved?  Did she want to impress Jesus, be noticed, or look better than Mary?  Maybe she was wanting thanks and praise.  
Martha said to Jesus, “. . .my sister has left me to do all the work by myself,” (Luke 10:40).  Had Martha even asked for help?  We talk about how busy we are - ora et labora et labora et labora - but how much of our busyness is of our own choosing?  And why are we choosing this?  Martha’s service was needed.  Our labora around here is needed, but perhaps we can change the way we go about it.  We don’t want to be worried, nor do we want to be distracted and lose our focus.  
When I was a kid, I wanted to do it all.  I still struggle with this.  Fortunately, I have wise mentors who show and teach me a better way to live the monastic life, a balanced life of ora et labora.  
Let us remember that Jesus is in our midst.  It is Jesus who teaches us.  It is Jesus whom we serve.  And it is by God’s grace and for God’s glory that we do what we do.  

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