Reflection Even though Martha got the first part right, inviting Jesus into her home, it was not long before her concern about preparing Jesus a proper meal drove her to distraction and resentment of her sister Mary. Can you hear Martha clanging her pots and pans while muttering, “Sure must be nice to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to his stories while I mash chickpeas in the kitchen!”
I have heard many commentaries play off Martha against Mary and I believe they miss an important point. Let me suggest that Martha and Mary represent two aspects of our selves, both of which are essential for us to be whole; the listening heart of Mary and the serving heart of Martha. Mary and Martha go hand in hand. Contemplation and action belong together.
For Martha’s actions to be sensitive they must arise from the receptive state represented by Mary. For Mary’s reflection to be productive it must lead to effective action. Jesus sees that Martha’s actions are rooted in worry and distress and consequently are neither sensitive nor effective. She identifies with being busy, “I am the responsible one. If it was not for me nothing would get done around here.” Martha’s interior state is unsettled, worried and accusatory which undermines anything she does.
By contrast Mary’s interior state is quiet and attentive. Her listening heart is open to experience the presence of Jesus, God with her. There is, however, a hazard possible for Mary as well. Some may call it quietude or self-indulgent navel gazing. Eventually Mary must stand up and allow her relationship with God to effect the way she lives her life. When she does her actions will be sensitive and effective.
Most of the time most of us find our ordinary state of awareness is much like distraught Martha. In that fazed and fuddled state we are incapable of living the Way of Jesus; loving God and loving our neighbors. What we need are both sisters, holding hands and showing us the way of a sensitive listening heart compelled to effective action. Then, in the words of Cynthia Bourgault we will have “the capacity to be fully engaged at every level of (our) being: alive and simultaneously present to both God and the situation at hand.” (Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, p 117)
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