October 4, 2011 - Memorial of Saint Francis of Assisi, religious

Today's Readings

We should begin by clarifying what would have been an obvious point to the early readers of this passage but has been lost in cultural translation: Jesus is not alone with Martha and Mary. When I was young, I imagined a house and I imagined Martha working in the kitchen and Mary listening to Jesus in the living room. Forget that image. There was no house; they were probably eating outside. Jesus was sitting and teaching his disciples. Lazarus was probably there. Anyone from the village who saw that Jesus was in town might have stopped by.

What is happening in this passage is that Martha is being traditionally sexist. It reminds me of Thanksgiving at my grandparents’ house. I would ask my grandmother whether I could help get things ready. “No. You go watch TV”, she would say. Then she would turn to my sister and tell her to set the table. Mary is sitting and listening to Jesus with all the men. This is perhaps the most “feminist” passage in all the Gospels: Martha is complaining about the gender-role society has forced her into, that she has to serve at table while the men just sit there; Mary is doing something about it by refusing to accept the role.

Whether Martha had said anything to Mary before appealing to Jesus or not, we cannot be sure, but I feel confident that there were at least some very specific looks to convey her meaning. She was probably very upset by the time she interrupted Jesus’ teaching to get him to correct her sister. It was this worry and anxiety that Jesus is referring to in his response. Instead of gladly serving Jesus and his disciples, she was obsessing with what her sister was doing.

When we serve Jesus, and all the service we give to our brothers and sisters is service to Jesus, we must do so out of love, not societal obligation. Only one thing is necessary, and that one thing is love. All we need is love; love is all we need, whether love makes us sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to him or love makes us knead the dough and stir the soup. Whatever love has inspired you to do, do it out of love. You cannot live other people’s lives for them; it is difficult enough living your own life. Just do that well. Do that out of love.