The webpage of the Youth Ministry of the Irish Province of Augustinians

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C - 21st July 2013

It’s very tempting to take the story of Martha and Mary as one which illustrates the priority of prayer and contemplation over work and service.  This distinction, in many ways, seems enshrined in the history and life of the church – contemplative or active orders; the balance between prayer and action; and even the fuga mundi (literally the flight from the world which was the expression used to speak of the phenomenon of those who, in the early centuries of the church would leave their homes and families and go to live as hermits in the desert).  Very often, those who took the “contemplative option” were seen as undertaking something that was far superior to the choice taken by others who continued to live “in the world”.  Like many things, however, the reality of the story of Martha and Mary is not quite so straightforward.
It’s easy to overlook the fact that it was, in fact, Martha (not Mary) who invited Jesus into the home she shared with her brother and sister. It is Martha who introduces Jesus into this home by inviting him in.  She recognises who he is and chooses to share that with the others – she is an evangeliser.
Mary, on the other hand, is the one who is evangelised. Jesus is introduced to her and she understands that here is something very special indeed.
The two sisters together provide us with a metaphor for the community of believers (the church). Some evangelise – introduce others to the message of Jesus. Others benefit from this message and become, in their turn, believers.
Drawing the metaphor out: when Martha complains to the Lord that she is left to do everything – Mary, in her opinion, is not carrying her share of the burden of evangelisation – Jesus responds that Martha should stop fretting; that Mary has chosen the better part.  In other words, in her efforts to evangelise Martha has forgotten what it is all about.  In her zeal to introduce others to the person of Jesus she has forgotten that she too is called to have an intimate and personal relationship with him.
This is a constant danger for followers of Jesus. How often do we see people who dedicate tremendous energy to the structures of religion? ; to ensuring that everything in the faith life of the community is in order? ; to planning, evaluating, organising? – but never really participating!
It is always difficult for “experts in religion” to realise that the real expertise of religion is about letting God in to transform the heart of the believer, and has nothing to do with the trappings associated with the liturgical life of the community.  No matter which way we look at it – there is no substitute for prayer.  Without nourishing the intimate relationship with the Lord the rest will, inevitably, come tumbling down like a pack of cards.
This is not about being Martha or Mary. This is about being Martha and Mary – but without having constantly returning to the the experience of Mary the evangelising work of Martha will, ultimately, be without foundation.

Article posted on 15th of July 2013

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