16th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Ages 9-12): Head and Heart
(I am considering this Sunday the feast day of this website. When you read the Gospel, you will know why. The whole Gospel is included in the reflection below.)
As we grow towards Confirmation, it becomes important to consider what this means for us. Even after Confirmation, we wonder—what now? What are we being called to? How can we know?
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
A quick read of this Gospel gives us the impression that life is not fair for Martha. She serves; no one helps. She complains to Jesus; he favours her sister. Not fair. (Also, somewhat embarrassing.) Seriously, if everyone sat around listening to Jesus, nothing would get done. Who would do the shopping? Who would make dinner? For that matter, who would grow the wheat for the bread, gather the grapes for the wine? Certainly Jesus cannot possibly think that everyone should just drop everything and sit and listen.
There are several important details that we need to pay attention to.
First, Martha is distracted by her many tasks. We have to ask, distracted from what? Distracted from whom? Does it sound as if these tasks are bringing her joy? If they are not, is she working and growing in the Holy Spirit?
Second, we notice that Mary sits at Jesus' feet. In Jesus' time, this is what men and boys do in order to learn scripture. This is what Jesus himself does at twelve years old:
After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.
This is the posture of a disciple. Mary sits at Jesus' feet the way the disciples do.
But studying scripture, listening and asking questions, sitting at the feet of the teacher—this is what men and boys do. Not women and girls. Not only is Mary leaving Martha to work alone, she is taking the role not reserved for women. How does this make Martha feel?
We can guess how she feels, because she complains to Jesus. Perhaps she thinks asking Jesus in front of Mary will embarrass Mary into doing what she ought to do. Certainly she hopes that Jesus will make her behave. But we know Jesus does not. Jesus is not going to prevent someone from being his disciple. Male or female, he invites them to sit and listen.
Third, we notice how Jesus calls Martha. By name. We know that,
The Good Shepherd calls his sheep by name and leads them out.
He invites Martha to follow. He would like to lead her, too. Mary has chosen the better part, but that does not mean that Martha cannot choose it, too.
But Jesus calls Martha by name not once, but twice. Why?
When someone is angry with us, they often say our name sharply. Loudly, even. But they usually only say it once. Jesus says her name twice. It is not likely that he is angry with her.
Martha is distracted by many things. Her head is distracted by her many tasks. She is not focused on what is important. But her heart is distracted, too. She focuses not on what she must do; she concerns herself with what Mary is doing. Perhaps Jesus calls her once so that her head turns towards him, and again so that her heart turns towards him, too.
In our life of faith in the church, we are called by name once at our Baptism. Our hearts turn towards Jesus. We do not even know him yet, but already we begin to listen.
We are called by name again at Confirmation. Our heads turn towards him, too. We are disciples. Male and female, we sit at his feet and listen.
Making time to sit and listen to the Word of God focuses us. We put distractions aside and for a time, we simply listen, trusting that this is the better part. Out of listening, we come to know who we are and what we are called to do. Then, and only then, we grow and work in the Holy Spirit. We fill with joy.