The encounter between Martha and Jesus at the home of Lazarus, teaches us about overloading our daily lives with so many activities and commitments that knowing, loving, and imitating Christ gets forgotten or relegated to going to church on Sunday. But it also teaches us about becoming ‘so heavenly minded that we are no earthy good.’
Jesus isn't saying that we shouldn't serve others, work hard, and honor our commitments. He just doesn’t want us to be "worried and anxious" about all those activities. It’s important not to lose sight of why we’re doing them. When we do worry and allow anxiety to fill and move us, the result is predictable -frustration, anger, impatience, loss of temper. For many of us, the Martha moments in life seem far more frequent than the Mary moments, and for some of us it is the other way around. Striking a holy balance seems next to impossible.
The problem with Martha is not that she is busy serving and providing hospitality. The problem is that she feels pulled or dragged in different directions. She no doubt wanted to be with everyone else, in the presence of her Lord. But she also was aware of the practical needs and might have thought, well no else is doing it so I’ll have to do it!
So, anxious about all that needed doing, she got busy and as she worked she kept thinking about her sister. Those bitter thoughts got her increasingly worked up until she couldn’t keep it in any longer. She could have recognized what was happening and regained control of her thoughts and emotions. She could have prayed a moment and let the anger be overcome by peace.
She has missed out on the “one thing needed” for true hospitality. There is no greater hospitality than listening to your guest. How much more so when the guest is Jesus! So Jesus says that Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.
Mary might have wondered why Martha didn't just say "Mary, I need some help." rather than embarrass herself and everyone else in the room. Like many peaceful, joyful, prayerful, relaxed people… Mary seems to have no sense of the practical needs. She focuses on sayings like, “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?", and justifies never doing anything but praying and subsequently relies on others for all the fulfillment of even her own practical needs.
Martha needed to learn that what we do, no matter what it is that we do, has to flow out of who we are as true and devoted disciples of Christ, children of God. Reflect on Martha for a minute. Although Jesus affirms that she has an important contribution to make for the gathering in her home, she could have been more free to leave that work for a while and truly receive what Christ was offering by his presence in her home.
But Martha isn’t the only person who had something to learn. Mary – could have been more merciful to her sister and more understanding of the very real demands of the situation. She could have received and adored Jesus, for a while, and then offered to help her sister. Maybe she was planning to do just that, but Martha didn’t give her chance before freaking out about things. Jesus affirms that Mary has the better part and he won’t take that from her, but he doesn’t say that she shouldn’t offer it as sacrifice and help Martha.
Let’s focus on achieving a ‘Holy Balance’ in our lives. Let’s recognize that it’s not a choice between the human or spiritual, prayer and work. It’s not a choice between being a saint or a sinner. Receiving and spending time with Jesus and serving others, are both essential to our lives as disciples of Christ.
‘America is United’
I recently read the above headline. I thought to myself… united? This must be another one of those news headlines designed to get your attention but has nothing to do with the actual story. So, I read the story and watched a video. After which, I happily admitted that I was not deceived by the headline and sadly found myself faced with yet more illusions about the world we live in.
Are we united as a country? I would argue that we are not. How can we be united? We can’t agree on what it means to be united! Therein lies much of the problem in our country and in countries around the world. If we are to be united, we need to understand what it means, objectively. We cannot strive toward a universal ideal when we actively deny the very existence of universal truths.
This is true of Unity, and of such ideals as Love, Peace, Justice, Truth, Freedom, Wrong, Right, Good and Evil. In order to achieve a society built upon objective universal ideals, we would need to root their existence in something other than ourselves, especially considering that we also don’t agree on what it means to be a human person. So, we are left with a fundamental question that we will fail to be united in answering… the question of God.
Although the answer to the question of God’s existence, defines everything else, there is a much deeper problem that exists and it will cause continued problems everywhere human beings live. We are at war within ourselves. We are tormented by the conflicting desires of our nobler and more selfish selves. So unless the ‘New Man’ dream of Eugenics comes into existence or governments manage to give ‘happy drugs’ to everyone… Unity, Peace, Love… all of it, will be as elusive for future generations as it is for us and has been since the beginning of human history.
There is a way forward. It’s a path that isn’t paved with illusions. It’s the most intense reality, requires absolute commitment and unwavering practice of living the principals. Since the dawn of humanity, there have been those among us who became free and turned from gazing into the pool of their own reflection, who were freed from the power of the lying mirror. Maybe you’ve met some of them.
These are the people who embodied the best of who we can be and keep us and have kept our world from complete destruction. They sustain the little unity, peace, love, truth, justice that there is in the world. They will readily admit that theirs is not an easy path. They will also tell you that the path cannot be found without first encountering the one who blazed the trail. Just like a French woman named Margaret Mary, who was changed forever because he touched her. His heart and her heart were brought together and hers became engulfed in the burning intensity of his love. It’s an encounter that no one can have and remain unchanged. It’s the answer to every question.
So, we will not end war, poverty, or any of the other inhumanities that human beings insist on inflicting upon each other… But we can experience an end to the war within ourselves. One person at a time we are freed to live in a county that knows perfect unity where life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is the universal norm.
A person of faith prays. We all understand that prayer is an age old and essential part of being a person of faith. In some religious traditions it is clearly explained that there is ‘a way’ to pray, and they explain it to you. In the Christian tradition it’s not so strait forward, although in the Orthodox, Eastern and Roman Catholic Churches it’s a bit of blend. That means that I get asked a lot about ‘how to pray’. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, the problem of praying will persist until you let go of some pre conceived notions.
To the first point, prayer is essential to the relationship with God. It is a conversation between God and you. It also matters that You and I are human, so it makes sense that our starting point is our humanness! That point is essential to ‘praying well’ and being present to the moment, to the encounter with God. We also have an individual identity and experience in life and that will affect how each of us prays. If we pray, we are more quickly and more likely to grow in faith and understanding.
So, what is prayer and where do we begin?
I’m such a mess, I just can’t talk to God…
Ok, I’m starting to understand, but…
Final thoughts before I go pray?
Fr. Blair Gaynes has been in the Diocese since 2008.