Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 21, 2019)
Martha invites Jesus to dinner. Martha and Mary live a five-minute, mile and a half bus ride from Jerusalem. I timed it when I was in Israel. Mary and Martha are present in only this one passage in the synoptic Gospels. Their brother, Lazarus, is not mentioned here. Luke tells us that Martha has a house in a village. John’s gospel gives the three more prominence. He identifies the village as Bethany.
Jesus was the guest of Martha and Mary more than once, as john tells us. John also tells us that Jesus loved the two sisters and their brother, Lazarus very much. This is as close as we get in the Gospels to the private life of Jesus.
Rather than comparing the two sisters, we can move beyond dualistic thinking; that is, something is either black or white, either this or that, either home maker or prayer, either liberal or progressive. Dualistic thinking divides rather than unites.
Jesus’ apparent correction of Martha does not indicate her having too many things to do. If she had less to do, she would very likely still have the same problem. Jesus identifies her problem as anxiety that is directed in being “anxious about many things.” We, like Martha, need to be un-anxious.
This experience of Jesus, Mary, and Martha was long ago. Today, our parallel situation deals with being listening disciples and simultaneously being breadwinners and housekeepers and child raisers; being young, Catholic Christians and students. That takes us beyond the Mary-Martha experience and places us in our need for balance in daily life situations two millennia later.
Baking brownies does not need to be separated from union with Jesus. In the ever-increasing pace of living, we, like Martha, need to maintain our listening hearts while doing the things we need to do.
We are faced with dualities that need to be resolved by avoiding dualistic thinking and pursuing what Richard Rohr has named unitive consciousness; that is, initiate creatively; take the best from each of the “either/or” dualities and create a new entity that includes the best of both.
The first part of the solution is to recognize the dualities that we face. In today’s gospel, spirituality and daily chores are not “either / or” situations but are “both / and” situations. We need both to be spiritual and to fulfill the needs to eat and work and drive the kids – or, for young folks: to study, work, pray, and play.
St. Francis de sales is helpful with a practice he calls “the direction of intention.” We invite god’s presence into our presence, ask God to help us in identifying and choosing well in our dualities as well as other situations, offer him what good we do; this helps us keep perspective. We see ourselves as “living Jesus.” Jesus is “our ground of being” in mutual presence as we do the things we do in our mutually cooperative building of the kingdom.
As we begin any activity during the day - easy, difficult or in between - we invite, we ask god’s help, we spiritually do the activity together with our lord. This spiritual practice is one of the hallmarks of Salesian spirituality. We sow the acts of directing our intention and reap the habit/ virtue of deeper union. In time, the practice becomes like breathing in and breathing out: ruah, the breath, the spirit in easy relationship.
We incorporate our divine relationship with the person, situation at hand in order to bring about our union with Jesus and our enlightened effort in any situation.
In the Martha-Mary episode, Jesus himself established priorities of “good” and “better” in an apparently contentious situation. In so many other situations, Jesus came up with a third and better solution: is it lawful to pay tax to Caesar, or not…? The woman at the well where is it appropriate to worship God on Mt. Gerizim or the mount in Jerusalem? And more.
May you be blessed in your efforts not to classify yourself or another as “Mary” or “Martha” and may we all become Mary-Martha’s – and, may we be blessed in our efforts to improve in achieving unitive consciousness