Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary… Lk 10:38-42
I guessed that it was Martha and Mary’s turn at mass this weekend when earlier this week I received Suzanne Guthrie’s link ‘The Bread of Anxiety‘ in my inbox and noticed Phil Ewing’s ‘Jesus with Martha and Mary’ on my Google Reader. I did let out a heavy sigh, I must admit. What more can I find to say about this story with which I have had a love-hate relationship for as long as I can remember?
I forgot about tomorrow’s Gospel until last night when I woke up and started thinking about it. Luke’s Martha and Mary story is one of the reasons I wish I could have been a deacon to talk of Godde’s things as only a woman can. This deacon idea crossed my mind while studying toward a Masters in Pastoral Studies with LIMEX in New Orleans; but it was not in the cards. Women deacons haven’t been in for about seventeen or eighteen centuries now. Still, I long to hear a woman’s voice talking to us from the pulpit about those unknown, and often invisible, Biblical and Christian soldiers that women have been for centuries now.
At three a.m. last night, I was hit by the fact that Martha is a saint and her sister Mary isn’t. How is this possible?
At the time of Lazarus’ death, when Jesus arrives in Bethany at their home, Martha welcomes him. Mary does not go to greet him. When Jesus tells Martha that he is the resurrection and the life, she responds: “Yes, you are the Messiah, the son of Godde, the one who is coming into the world” (Jn 11:27). Like Peter in the synoptic Gospel, Martha recognizes Jesus for what he is, the one everyone has been waiting for. But, in John 12:1-8, Mary anoints Jesus’ head, which reveals an incredible connection between the two.
As I continued thinking about Martha and Mary, if I can call ‘thinking’ what I do in the middle of the night, I found that special door that took me from Chronos, linear time, to Kairos, Godde’s time, in illo tempore, if you prefer, this reality which happened once and continues happening.
I found myself in Bethany and walked through the streets till I came upon the house of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. I saw what looked like a servant plucking a chicken outside in the courtyard and asked her where I would find the ladies of the house. She guided me to them. I introduced myself and they did greet me in the kindest manner.
“How do you feel,” I asked them, “about one of you being a saint and one of you not being one?” They both burst into laughter.
“It is Martha’s reward for having been so mistreated by history all these centuries,” Mary explained. “But you knew that Jesus was going to die,” I replied. “You anointed his head!” “We both knew he was going to die,” said Martha. “Once again, I was overseeing the preparations for the meal. And then, Mary has always had a special relationship with Jesus. It was right for her to anoint him.”
“But, Martha, that day when you got angry at Mary for not helping, what truly happened?” The two sisters remained silent for a while. Mary looked at her sister with a smile, not wanting to answer for her.
“I am the oldest one. Lazarus is the middle child. Mary is our baby sister. Life has always seemed to come easy for her. She did not have colic as a baby, for instance. She would sit and watch the world go by. When Jesus came into our lives, all that mellow Mary here wanted to do was to listen to him.
I have been taught, expected in fact, to take care of things. When our parents died, it seemed normal for me to take over and take care of things. Would I still do it had I been asked for my opinion? I cannot say for sure.
Mary is the contemplative in the family. I am the contemplative in action, and when I don’t have enough time for contemplation, my action gets scrambled and confused.
That day Jesus and his disciples arrived, I had planned to do other things. I had to scrap my plans. Instead of receiving them the way the house was, and feeding them with what was already here, I went in overdrive, and lost track of what my heart really wanted: to talk and laugh with Jesus and Mary. And I lost my temper.”
Mary got up and stood behind her sister, placing her arms around her sister’s neck. “Martha is a force of nature,” she said. “After Jesus’ death, she took care of us all. She was as heart-broken as I was, but she kept life going, when all of us just wanted to give up. When Jesus appeared to us a last time as the Risen One. I will never forget how he asked Martha then, very specifically, to prepare a meal once again. “Your hands have a way of pouring love in the food you prepare,” he told her. “Never have I tasted food better than yours.”
Their tears at the memory brought tears to my eyes. We all got up and gave ourselves a hug. “When two or three are gathered in his name, he is with us, isn’t he?” I asked. “He definitely is,” they replied in unison.
Oh, Jesus who live within each one of us and around us as well, how sweet it was to feel your presence then!
It is only this morning as I was walking in the countryside that I remembered that nightly encounter with the two sisters. It seems appropriate to share this story here and now.
One with them and with you in Him who is the All.
Art: Fernand Léger, Three Girls on Red Background, 1927