Martha or Mary Mary and Martha? – 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Courtesty: Franciscan Media

Most of us are intimately aware of the personalities of Martha and Mary. We find the tension in ourselves and those close to us.

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 situation he is in 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 must 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? That may happen more naturally when I’m doing it with or for 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?

Perrhaps 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 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.Jesus has elements of both Mary and Martha, probably exhibiting them as the situation he is in dictates.

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.

  • Karen+Arthurs
    Posted at 07:17h, 17 July Reply

    Thank you Fr.Philip for bringing this reading into modern times. Rather than competition of right and wrong with the other, it is about learning to find prayerful balance in our day.

  • Lorraine+Majcen
    Posted at 11:15h, 17 July Reply

    Thank you for your commentary Fr Philip. It’s helpful to view that gospel reading from a different angle as you have done. How often we forget to be mindful of combining action with contemplation in our day. There are so many opportunities to do this daily. I am happy to have this reminder.

  • Peter+Bisson
    Posted at 11:17h, 17 July Reply

    Thank you Philip!

  • Vicky+Chen
    Posted at 12:19h, 17 July Reply

    In my daily life, it is easy for me to be scattered doing chores, reading, cleaning, cooking. How often have I forgotten what I am supposed to do walking from one room to another? The same goes with praying, supposedly my contemplative period. Oh, distractions, distraction!

    I am reminded of our Ignatius of Loyola, the Contemplative in Action. His feast day is drawing near. Help us continue to improve through the grace of God.

  • Max Oliva
    Posted at 19:45h, 17 July Reply

    Very well put with some important insights and good practical examples.
    It is great when you meet someone who is truly a contemplative in action.

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