When I was in first grade in a one-room schoolhouse, our teacher decided to pitch a tent outside and to have the 1st and 2nd graders practice hospitality. We were taught to meet our visitor at the door, ask them to come in, share some conversation, ask them to be seated and then offer them something to drink. We even practiced some “visiting conversation.” We learned the basics of hospitality.
In this Sunday’s gospel, we hear about the visit that Jesus paid to Mary and Martha. Remember that Jesus was quite itinerant and really didn’t have a house. Some scholars and homilists portray Martha as the busy one and Mary as the contemplative, often asking us to choose which one most describes us. Others focus on women’s “proper” role in society and how Mary breaks the norm and Jesus affirms her in that role. She too can learn from the Master.
The artistic portrayal of Mary and Martha that I chose to accompany this reading is very modern and very applicable to life today. Martha, the anxious worrier, is not unlike most of us who try to balance so many things in life. At times, we even become jealous of each other when one seems to be doing all the work and the other is just “visiting.” Children, home, shopping, career, church, civic commitments, volunteer work—all preoccupy us. We become distracted from time to just sit and be in the presence of another, especially in the presence of God.
Jesus doesn’t reject Martha’s cooking, but he reminds her that service must also be connected to listening. Service that does not embrace listening to Jesus’ word misses the heart of everything. That’s why Jesus says that Mary has chosen the better part, the better portion of the meal. Christianity requires service, but the Word of the Lord needs to be heard first. Do we take the time to do that after participating in the Eucharistic meal?
And about those distractions, anxieties, and worries the writer Anne Lamott reminds us: “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes…including you.”