This is a story about two sisters and their relationship with Jesus. It could be an ordinary family like our own family but it is about a special family that was friends with Jesus.
Maybe you have a family of many brothers and sisters. Each of you has different characteristics and ways of thinking. But all in all you get together well and have people over for special occasions. When there is a graduation, a birthday, or other special events, the kitchen is full of people helping to prepare a meal. When I was hosting an event I purposely sat on the chair next to the kitchen door so I could get up often to bring more food or help the guests with special requests for food. During those times I was absent from part of the conversation because I needed in the kitchen. I did not get all of the conversation because I was gone from the table.
When Jesus came to town, Martha opened the door for Him and welcomed Him into her house. This indicates that Martha was the older of the two sisters and that she owned the house. Jesus must have been a good friend of the family and felt He could drop in whenever he was in town. He always brought a number of disciples along with him because he always went place to place with groups of friends.
I am sure that Jesus must have greeted the two sisters warmly and sat down in the cool house. Last week's Gospel was the story of the Good Samarian. In that story Jesus told about a man that fell victim to robbers when this man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. Many people passed by the man, including a Levite and a priest that never helped him. But a Samaritan man helped the victim to safety showing that helping others is what we are supposed to do.
I am sure that He told Mary and Martha this story when he first arrived. This was an impressive story and I think that disciples of Jesus wanted to talk more about the event. Hearing that story I am sure that Martha was impressed that the Samaritan did something to the victim to help him recover. The action of doing something for another was part of her makeup. She always showed Jesus hospitality by inviting him to stay in her house and by feeding him and his followers. So, according to today's Gospel, Martha started to fix a meal, serve beverages, and get the kitchen up and running to feed all of her guests.
This was her personality and her way of helping others in need by serving food and beverages. She went out of her way to do this because she had heard many stories of Jesus asking others to do the same. She was not able to use her microwave or electric stove to get the job done faster. She had to make a fire in the fire pit to get things cooking. Martha was a good, good person by making others feel welcome and doing what she was told by her friend Jesus.
Are you like Martha? Do you go out of your way to bring food to others? Do you go out of your way to mow lawns for others or aid them with snow shoveling? She was doing her part fully and joyously by sharing her home and her hospitality to others. Jesus knew her personality and was delighted in her.
Mary, on the other hand, had a different personality. Today she wanted to sit beside Jesus and listen to him speak. This was an unusual thing to do for a Jewish woman. Jewish law said that that women were not supposed to learn from teachers or rabbis. Only the men were supposed to get trained in the law and history of the Jewish tradition. This custom of training men to be spiritual leaders remains today and there is still much controversy over it. But today, Mary, felt she must listen to Jesus and be educated by what he was saying. Mary was doing the right thing. And, Jesus was glad she was there.
Martha was getting irritated by being in the kitchen alone. So, she spoke out to Jesus about her growing frustration and asked Him to send Mary back to the kitchen to help out. This was an honest request of Martha and she must have felt comfortable asking Jesus to ask Mary to return to help her.
Jesus was most loving as he spoke his reply back to Martha. He told her that was anxious about many things concerning dinner. He told her that Mary should stay where she was because today Mary was doing right to listen to him, Jesus. Because of the wonderful relationship the three had, He was able to speak to her in such a gentle and comforting way. Although the response must have surprised Martha, she took it in with dignity. Perhaps Martha came into the front room and sat next to Jesus to listen.
Both Mary and Martha had different personalities and ways of thinking. The story today can make us feel that in our own families we need to be aware and grateful that all of us are different. Instead of making judgments and telling someone off, it would be much better if we realized that our individual family members have different gifts and different ways of being. It is healthy to challenge others way of thinking and doing. But at the same time it is necessary to speak in kindly and gentle ways. Taking turns at doing different tasks may become a new norm in family gatherings. As an aside, I am still waiting for all family members to come into the kitchen to wash dishes during a Super Bowl game!!!
In my humble judgment there are times when we should minister to others and there are times we need to sit down and pray. There is a part of Mary and Martha in all of us. Neither of the parts is wrong. But there are times when we need to listen and times we need to work.
There is never a time when criticism and harsh words should be used within families. But it happens. Words are supposed to be used with compassion and gentleness.
Maybe Jesus will be coming to your home in the near future. What are you planning to do?