A beautiful homily on the Martha and Mary story
by Fr. Jet Villarin, SJ
Poor Martha, there she is, cooking up a storm, slaving away in the kitchen, while Mary her sister is in the living room, sitting “beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.” Before long, the envy in Martha grows thick as the gravy she is cooking and the water is not even boiling before she bolts from the kitchen to plead with the Lord, who is probably still speaking. “Lord, do you not care?”
The other time the Lord heard those words was when he was roused from sleep. That was when he was with the disciples in a boat that was being tossed by a storm at sea. Their panic kept crashing like the waves and it did not take long before the disciples woke him up who was probably still dreaming. Lord, do you not care? Do you not mind we are all going to die?
Lord, do you not care about me, all alone to do the serving? Do you not care about my life coming to an unexpected, inclement end? Do you not care about the storms I have to deal with in the kitchen or at open sea?
The immediate response of the Lord to all the envy and panic is to call us by name and to bring us back to himself and to our senses. “Martha,Martha.” The repetition is like a mirror to our selves. It is all so human and familiar, an endearment, not even a scolding, but a hushing, an invitation to stillness. Shhh, there, there. “Tahan na, tahan na.”
“You are anxious and worried about many things.” It is the “many things” that upset you, the stuff you still need to marinate and mince, the table that has yet to be set, the multi-tasking details and deadlines of serving that worry you. It is the “many things” coming at you from different directions,the “many things” you think are necessary that distress you. You are just like the grown-ups, as the Little Prince would say. You have things all mixed up, and you are always busy with “matters of consequence.”
And yet there is need of only one thing. This unum necessarium, the one thing necessary is what Mary has done, and it is to gather these “many things” into just one thing: to be a disciple close to the Lord. There is only one thing of consequence, and it is to be with him, listening to him, staying with him wherever he is, following him wherever he leads.Tomorrow, he could very well be in the kitchen. Right now, he is there in your living room.
And so, Martha, Martha, you may think you are only being faithful and generous by the “many things” you are serving. In truth, there is only one thing that is needed, and it is this you are missing. And so before long, it happens: you become “burdened with much serving.”
No one takes delight in service that has become burdensome, not the one who is serving nor the one who is served. Can anyone really savor something that has been spiced with envy or bitterness from the heart? Why should anyone dine on whatever dish you are serving if that serving has been seasoned with the sourness in your soul? If you, with the “many things” on your plate, keep missing the one thing that must be served, you will soon be leaning against the counter, defeated and drained. Search the dimness and you will no longer find anything delicious about your tiredness.
Those who’ve been schooled well by the Jesuits know that they’ve been trained to be doers. In the Fourth Week of Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, in the Contemplatio ad Amorem (the Contemplation to Attain Love), we are told that love is expressed more in deeds rather than in words. Confessions of love are good, but deeds of love are better.
The kitchen then is a familiar place for doers. It is the place of operations, where things get done, the place of execution, where love is expressed and recreated in daily choices and deeds of devotion. It can also be a dangerous place where we can hide beneath all the busyness, and confuse who we are with what we have done and accomplished. This place where love is made real is also where love can be misplaced and lost.
Those who’ve been schooled in the spirituality of Loyola will find a kindred spirit in Martha. They have known all too well the anxieties and burdens of much serving, and the dangers of a shallow and misguided activism. From experience, they have learned that speaking must be coupled with listening, action with reflection, and discernment with decision.
If Loyola were alive today,he would tell the distraught servant by the stove: Martha, Martha. There, there. Time now to turn the fire low. There in the living room, listen. There is only one thing that is needed, only one thing that must be served. This time, just once, let the Lord wait on you. The Lord does care deeply about you.