Martha or Mary? Mary and Martha? – Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time 2019             


lMany people assume that Jesus was making a comparison between Mary and Martha in today’s Gospel account and that he was implying that Mary’s attitude was better. After all, he does say, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part …”

However, it is instructive to look at Jesus’ own life. We see a person who balances both action and contemplation. Jesus has elements of both Mary and Martha, probably exhibiting them as the current situation dictates.

Jesus was prayerful. We occasionally hear about him going into the hills or desert to be alone in prayer. He encourages his disciples to follow that example. But he was also active in reaching out to people in need. We hear elsewhere in the Gospel that he felt compassion for people, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. That compassion had its roots in his prayerful stance and is practiced in his ministry of healing and listening.

The challenge for Martha is to become less “worried and distracted” by her many responsibilities and approach them with more focus and mindfulness. But Mary also has to be prepared to step away from her complete gaze on the Lord and pay closer attention to her surroundings. That tension between action and contemplation is a concern for most of us.

We tend to err on one side or the other, though we probably err the most by not taking enough time for prayer and reflection. That can manifest itself in overwork, rash thinking and reacting hastily to a situation.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could live every moment of the day with an intentional focus? What if we could put our heart and mind into our daily chores? What would it mean to cook and clean and garden with love? Can I bring out the garbage or wash the dishes with love?

Probably if I’m doing it with someone whom I enjoy spending time with. Unfortunately, many of us approach our household tasks with resignation and a sense of duty. That’s natural when those tasks are mundane or dirty. Is it possible to bring love to using a plunger on a clogged toilet?

Perhaps Jesus was inviting Martha to let go of her worry and distraction. Can we carry out our paid work with that same kind of love? That’s likely easier if we have the advantage of a career that connects to our passions and is really a kind of vocation.

But what about a menial job that is merely a means of paying the bills? It’s really difficult to carry that out with love, especially if the work is demeaning or if the boss is bullying in his or her approach. In those stressful and challenging situations it becomes so much more important to go to Mary’s “better part,” allowing our contemplative gaze on Jesus to bring us to a place of peace.

Philip Shano, SJ has many years of rich and varied experience working with Ignatian spirituality: teaching, writing and using it in his ministry. He resides in the Jesuit community in Pickering, Ontario.

  • Peggy Spencer
    Posted at 02:17h, 21 July Reply

    Having just read several interpretations of this Gospel, and I finding it quite confronting to decide with whom I sided, the diligent, hard-working Martha, or the more fortunate, and perhaps younger sister, Mary who hadn’t really had to come face to face with the importance of ‘daily doings!’ So I have really enjoyed reading your excellent interpretation of this age-old enigma – who was living out the better part. However, where I am in my stage of life, I am able to fortunately have less of Martha’s concerns and much more of Mary’s.

  • Robert Czerny
    Posted at 09:33h, 21 July Reply

    Thank you for the positive message about doing everything, no matter what it is, with love. However, I prefer a liberation understanding of this scene. Martha’s expectation is that her role, and her sister’s role too, is to prepare the snacks while the men have their important conversation. Jesus says no, it’s time for women’s liberation; like Mary, Martha should realize that she has the right to learn and discuss.

  • Donna
    Posted at 14:48h, 23 July Reply

    Who is the artist?

Post A Comment

Subscribe to igNation

Subscribe to receive our latest articles delivered right to your inbox!