In some ways, this Martha and Mary story can be annoying to many of us. You do not want to be seen as too much like Martha; ignoring the guest or like passive Mary. But there is really much more to this gospel and these two sisters than you might think. Behind its short sentences, there are some surprisingly deeper revelations. That first-century Christians would have immediately picked up on and been surprised. First at Mary; take a look at what she is doing, sitting at the Lord’s feet listening to Him. The given customs of this time separated male and female roles such as, women in the kitchen and men in the living room. Mary is crossing boundaries; she boldly came in where Jesus was and did what only men were allowed to do. She sat at the feet of Jesus, the Teacher. This is the customary symbolic sign that someone wished to be a master’s student, His disciple, something open only to men.
There is a verse in the Talmud that states, “It is better to burn the Torah than to teach it to women.” But Mary ignored all this and presented herself as a disciple and thereby assumed equality with men. Jesus not only allowed it, but praised it. So once more, He turned the world upside down. Then there is Martha, she comes across as an A-type personality who cannot sit still. But this is to underestimate her position, her passion and her faith. To gain an appreciation of Martha, recall her in another well-known gospel story. She appears in John’s gospel where she and her sister, Mary, are grieving over the death of their brother Lazarus.
Recall that it is Martha who speaks up and dares to scold Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” Then she makes a stunning profession of faith every bit equal to that of St. Peter, who at Ceasarea Philippi in answer to Jesus’ question, “who do people say that I am?” St. Peter responded, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Martha says the same thing to Jesus at her brother’s grave. After Martha’s complaint, Jesus had said to her, “Everyone who believes in Me will never die.” And then He asks her, “Do you believe this?” And Martha responded, “We have come to believe You are the Messiah, the Son of God, the One coming into the world.” There she is proclaiming the same words, the same faith as St. Peter.
Thereby, becoming His female counterpart and co-founder of the faith. Between the lines there is something revolutionary being said in this little gospel story. Something that gets lost in our culture today. Both Martha and Mary heard Jesus speak firsthand many times, a privilege we do not have. But, God is ceaselessly speaking to us in the world around us. In the words of the psalmist, the heavens are telling the Glory of God and the firmament proclaims His handiwork. For God fashions nothing unless it imaged some perfection of His. There is no blade of grass that does not speak of Him.
The wind, the mountains, the sea and sky all reflect their Creator. And, if you miss that message, it is because you are not tuned into God. You are not listening. God also speaks to us through history and through human events. The civil rights movement was a cry from God, “let my people go.” Whenever people have to beg for bread or justice, they do so with the voice of Jesus. And sometimes, I need Him to touch my ears and say, “Be opened.” God also speaks to us in our personal history. A short time ago, I buried a man who was half my age. A young man who was full of talent, full of love and life.
And that life was stolen from Him. Not swiftly and painlessly, but slowly and cruelly. Those of us who stood by were tempted to complain with Martha at the death of her brother. “Lord if you had been here our brother would not have died.” We could not help but ask as we often do in these situations. “Lord, if you had been here our brother would not have died.” We could not help but ask as we often do in these situations. “Lord, where were you when he whom You loved was dying, where were You?” I am sure many of you have experienced this at such times, it is only by listening, almost in desperation, that we hear God speaking.
Not explaining, not defending, not justifying, but saying, “Do you love Me? Then trust Me.” I do care, I was never closer to Him than in those last agonizing months. For every Gethsemane is my garden and every Calvary is my cross. We are busy people, we do not slow down. My friends, if you want to strengthen your faith simply listen, listen to one another. Listen to Jesus in the proclaimed word and the words of the Mass. Stop and listen after prayer. Listen to the words of God in the world around you. Recall that the words from the old testament, “Be still and know that I am God.” And then the Lord will say of you, you have chosen the better part.