Most of us have had guests over for a meal. If you’re the one who did the cooking you will know how stressful that can be. You want everything to go well and there are so many things that can go wrong. All you need is someone who doesn’t pull their weight or simply refuses to co-operate with you. That’s at the heart of this Gospel but it is not Mary who is refusing to co-operate, not doing what she should, it is Martha!
Martha, Martha, her name has rolled down the centuries as the hostess corrected by the Lord. All she wanted to do was look after her guests, especially our Lord. In John’s Gospel she gives powerful testimony to her faith by proclaiming that she believes that Jesus is the Messiah; a proclamation on a par with that of Peter himself. Her efforts to please her guests are testimony to the goodness of her heart and her love for the Lord.
Her culture and her faith commands her to be hospitable. She wants to show her guests her family’s best side, not let the family down. She wants to play a motherly role and be a hostess and to feed and care for them. But on this important occasion her sister is sitting there on her big, fat backside doing nothing! One can almost hear the banging and the muttering as she goes about getting everything ready. There is our Lord sitting in the midst of his disciples teaching, with Mary sitting near him listening attentively, while Martha busies herself with her work.
Martha finally loses it. She does not address her sister but the Lord. What is going on here? Has there already been a row? Are they on speaking terms? Is she afraid of Mary? She appeals to the Lord, trying to get Him onto her side but to no avail. She is corrected instead. ‘You worry and fret about so many things’ could be said of many of us. “There is one thing necessary.’ And Mary has chosen it. The Lord will not deny her. Why?
He will not deny Mary because the Lord is the One who is providing the food. He is the true Host at this meal. Here it is the food of His Presence and His Teaching. Soon He will give the food of His Body and Blood. It is not He who needs food from Martha but Martha who needs food from the Lord. Mary has realised where the true food is and the Lord is feeding her.
So often are we not just like Martha. We worry and fret about so many unimportant things and miss the one thing necessary. The Lord wishes to save us, take away our sins, feed us, and bring us into Eternal Life and few there are who, like Mary, take the time to let Him.
How do we feed on the Lord?
First by listening to Him in His Word the Bible, especially the Gospels, and in the Teaching of the Church. We also feed when we give time to prayer – that is spend time talking to God and giving space for Him to speak to our deepest inner self. We also feed when we listen to the events of our lives or the beauty of this world He has given us. All this requires the sacrifice of time – time given to the Lord, to sit and to listen to Him. We feed on Him especially when we celebrate the Sacraments, above all when we receive Holy Communion in a state of grace i.e. free of mortal sin.
I will restrict myself though to just prayer and that is a huge topic. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, you are always in His Presence and under His care. Being attentive to that Presence is the heart of prayer. The Church still defines prayer as ‘lifting our heart and mind up to God’ and that is what being attentive to His Presence means. So here is a simple, ancient way to pray. Pick a short phrase such as ‘Jesus have mercy on me’ or ‘Sacred Heart of Jesus I place all my trust in thee’ or any phrase that appeals to you. Say it slowly as you breath in and breathe out while you sit quietly, paying attention to the Presence of God. You will get distracted. Getting distracted is normal. When you notice your distraction just return to the Lord’s Presence. All the saints had to do this.
Another way to pray is to read the Sunday or daily Gospel slowly and with attention and care. One can read and reread it aloud. One listens to the words and pays attention to any word or phrase that strikes you. One talks to God about it and looks to see how it applies to one’s life. Slowly we become more and more attentive to the Lord and His Teaching.
When we pray daily the Lord comes to mean more and more to us and we become more and more aware of His Presence in our lives and how He cares for us. We begin to want to love others more because of the love He has for us.
A Catholic who does not pray, who does not give some time to God each day is not a real Catholic. Making space for God in our day, in our lives, taking the time to sit at His feet and listen to Him with our mind and heart is how we begin to grow spiritually. It is how we learn to trust Him, to love Him and to want to follow Him wherever He leads, to not only avoid doing wrong but to want to do more and more good for love of Him.
It is your choice. God has provided the food of Eternal Life for you. You can choose to eat or you can choose to go hungry.