16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
I have heard the Mary and Martha story a million times. I know that Mary was “better” because she sat and listened rather than pull a Martha and run around making sure everything was perfect, which would be more like my stance on having company. But I still resent the Marys of the world. Things have to get done, and sometimes the Marys of the world don’t get that.
So I reread this story prepared to feel a bit miffed again. But, as usual when I read these stories more closely, I caught details I hadn’t noticed before. Martha, busy-bee Martha and not goody-two-shoes Mary (as I have come to think of her), is actually the one who welcomed Jesus in the village. We don’t know, but chances are if Martha hadn’t welcomed Jesus, He would have kept going, would have never stopped in Bethany. Mary wouldn’t have had a chance to sit at His feet. If Jesus hadn’t stopped at Mary and Martha’s house, He wouldn’t have become friends with them and their brother Lazarus. He wouldn’t have later raised Lazarus from the dead.
Jesus does stop, but unfortunately, then Martha lost sight of the guest. Instead, she was “burdened with much serving” (v. 40). She didn’t necessarily want to serve; she felt like she had to. She was paying attention to the tasks not the guest. Jesus was a burden on her, if you can believe it. Jesus, a burden! That was the last thing Jesus ever intended to be. He came to make us free (Galatians 5:1), not burden us with His presence!
We’ve all been a guest in someone’s house where you feel like a burden to the host. That feeling makes you want to go home. We’ve also been guests where we felt valued, that our presence was the most important thing in the world, that the rest could wait. That feeling makes us feel worthy, makes us want to stay. Jesus wants us to make others feel valued, not a burden, to focus on the other. Martha lost sight of that when she pointed out how little Mary is doing—her focus became herself.
Tasks have to be done, and Jesus knew that. But Jesus wanted Martha to understand the way you recognize someone’s value is not by what you do for them, but by how you listen to them. That’s certainly true of the members of my family. I don’t always remember that and sometimes try to pass off doing for loving, but they aren’t the same. Even if I don’t recognize it at the time, the recipient always knows the difference.
Martha made Jesus feel valuable by welcoming Him to her home. Mary made Him feel valuable by sitting and listening. How we act is always more important than what we accomplish. That can be a hard lesson in our goal-oriented society. On paper, goals and accomplishments look so good. Face-to-face, what we value is the person. Where do you place the value?