A few weeks ago, the gospel reading at Mass was the memorable “Martha, Martha” incident. Jesus visited a town, and went to the home of Martha, who had a sister named Mary. When Jesus came into the house and started teaching, Mary sat on the floor right by Jesus' feet and listened with rapt attention.
Meanwhile, Martha was working hard in the kitchen preparing food for the visitors. Exasperated, she went to Jesus and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.”
I vividly remember the first time I was really paying attention to this “Martha, Martha” story. Right at the moment when Martha said to Jesus, “Tell her to help me,” I fully expected Jesus to say something like, “That’s a good point, Martha. Hey Mary, please give your sister a hand. Then after we’ve eaten, you can come back here and I’ll teach some more, OK?”
I mean, that seemed to me to be the Christian thing to do, right? Instead of having one person do all the work while everyone else sat around doing nothing, giving Martha a little help with the chores was the obvious course of action.
So, imagine my surprise when the reading continued, and Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”
(By the way, whenever I think, hear, or say, “Martha, Martha,” in the back of my brain I can hear that old Robert Palmer song “Bad Case of Loving You.” The lyrics of the chorus are: “Doctor Doctor, gimme the news / I got a bad case of lovin' you / No pill's gonna cure my ill / I got a bad case of lovin' you.” Except when I hear it in my head, it goes like this: “Martha, Martha, gimme the news / You got a bad case of servin’ blues.” I’m not sure why that is, or more importantly, why I shared that with you. But that’s what I hear.)
I was really shocked that Jesus told Martha, in effect, to stop whining and leave Mary alone. In my mind then (and now, too, to be honest), I thought Martha had a really good point and that Mary was being somewhat of a slacker.
After thinking about it some more, and reading some Bible commentaries, I now understand that listening to life-changing proclamations from the incarnate Son of God is much more important than making some baloney sandwiches for a Thursday lunch.
But still, couldn’t Jesus have told Martha to sit down next to Mary and listen, and order Peter and the other apostles to go into the kitchen and finish making lunch?
I’m glad Martha did not say what I would’ve said if I was in her place, which is: “OK, fine. I’ll sit here and listen, too. All y’all can feed yourselves! The phone’s over there, and Pizza Hut delivers!”