I feel bad for St. Martha. Here it is her “feast day” when the Church takes a moment to celebrate her relationship with Christ and we can’t seem to escape the unfortunate or perhaps unfair negative comparisons to her sister, Mary. Martha and Mary are forever linked, which is understandable: all of the opportunities we meet her in the Gospels features the two together (or with their brother Lazarus). But it seems like every commentator – (for example in the Church’s “office of readings” we heard from St. Augustine today on Martha) – eventually they zero in on focusing on Jesus’ words “Mary has chosen the better part.” Martha is seemingly forever characterized by very human and what is often accepted as the less noble traits of the two.
Maybe that reality makes me identify with Martha. Having to contend with the mundane, ordinary, less glamorous tasks in the day to day – administrative stuff, bureaucratic stuff, daily chores are annoying, or boring, rarely celebrated or appreciated. Knowing how often all of those things distract me from what my heart and soul ultimately desires – simply Jesus.
And like Martha, I can look and see someone else who seems intimately connected, lost in Jesus’ loving gaze and what? … jealousy, envy enter in… Perhaps this is what makes Martha endearing to me on some level – she could very easily be the first ever Jersey girl – she is incredibly frank and honest with Jesus and actually says what’s on her mind and heart. But for that, she kind of ends up remembered forever as, well what? – a whiner complainer? So is the lesson to just keep your mouth shut and be fake?
Quite a few centuries later after Martha and Mary, United States President Theodore Roosevelt offered a very tweet-worthy reflection that comes to mind: “Comparison is the thief of Joy.” And in this case, where did the comparison come from – Martha herself. Jesus never passes judgment on the things that Martha was doing. He was never comparing the two sisters. She did that herself.
It’s that lack of joy that weighs Martha down to the point of affliction. When we recognize that, this encounter is almost a foreshadowing of what Jesus will do for their brother Lazarus – casting off death, restoring life. Jesus expels this demons of death and destruction found in: envy, jealousy she might have felt towards Mary, the unfair comparison she makes, perhaps temptations to gossip, and slander her sister. Jesus expels all that when He makes it clear that one sister isn’t a favorite over the other. Jesus loves Martha. He loves her personality, her care and concern, her attention to detail, her hospitality… She doesn’t have to win him over, He already loves her. He makes himself readily available, accessible to her, coming into her very home. It’s when she is able to let go of her own comparisons and expectations and let Jesus love Her for who she is, as she is, that she too discovers “the better part.”