“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 11.41-42).
A real joke
There are different versions of this story but they all boil down to the same theme. A person had been confined to a mental institute. After years of treatment it was decided that he was cured enough to be discharged. So the psychiatrist approached the patient to congratulate him. “I have good news for you. The board has examined your case and they have decided that you are completely cured. You can go home.” Seeing the resentful look on the face of the patient, the doctor said : “Why are you reacting in this way? Aren’t you happy now that you are cured?” And the man ranted back, “Some cure! When I came here I was Pope John Paul II. Now I’m nobody!”
This is a ‘accurate’ joke in the sense that it brings home a very important truth about ourselves. There is a big difference between who we really are and who we think we are. This lack of perception is at the root of a lot of our problems especially in relationships.
A real family
The family of Martha and Mary – and their brother Lazarus – were always very welcoming to Jesus. Jesus felt at home there. One day he goes to spend some time with them. Martha was busy preparing the food for Jesus and his companions while Mary sat down at his feet listening to him. No big deal. Mary is keeping company to Jesus while Martha is doing all the things which need to be done… dinner to be prepared, house to be cleaned, table to be set, wine to be bought, floors to be swept… This is tedious work but someone has to do it.
At a certain moment, she starts looking at Mary and Jesus chatting happily along and she becomes angry. “Here am I working like crazy and my dear sister is sitting comfortably listening to Jesus when she can give me a hand. And Jesus is such a good man that he does not even realize it.” The inner grumbling increases and increases. At a certain point, she just cannot take it any more and she goes to Jesus and asks for justice : “Jesus, please, can you ask Mary to come and help me a little bit!? Here am I sacrificing myself like a dog trying to have everything ready and there she is all calm, all blessed, listening to you. This is ridiculous!”
We would have expected Jesus to say to Mary “She is right! Go and help her and then you can come and listen to me afterwards”. Instead Jesus calls to conversion Martha, saying: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted about many things. There is need of one thing only and Mary has found it!”
A real attitude
And we are lost! Again, Jesus is not very logical, we say. Instead, Jesus is very logical. And deep. Jesus is never superficial in his answers. He goes down to the root problem. Obviously, there is nothing wrong in cleaning the house. There is nothing wrong in giving a hand. Jesus is just saying that the problem is elsewhere. The problem is always on the inside.
The problem is the attitude of Martha, which is a very deep attitude which all of us have. An attitude which makes life unbearable at times.
Early in life we learn that we cannot live without love. We need love. More than cookies and milk. So we try hard to earn this love. Either by being nice and doing everything that they tell us to do or else by being rebellious and defiant. Always the same mechanism to get the attention, respect, love that we need. You may know the story of the three girls. One was beautiful and so she was always surrounded by admirers. The other was smart and so again she always had company. The third sister was neither pretty nor intelligent. So she said to herself ‘let me be good’ – in this way I will be appreciated and esteemed.
Martha was working so hard because this was her way to earn the love of others. Her hidden subconscious agenda was simple : through her work she was hoping to get the approval of others. And obviously, she is appalled that others are not following her example because she believes she is on the right track.
How many times we work so hard and then make life for others unbearable! The husband does not give two hoots about the cleanliness of the house and yet since the wife is putting all her energy in her work in order to be appreciated, she expects to be acknowledged. If the husband in his carelessness is not tidy… then the problems start. The wife does not care about all this extra work he does at the office (she would prefer him to stay a little bit more at home) but if she says something, the husband immediately feels offended because this is the way he knows how to get the attention he needs.
And so life becomes a tug of war. You love me, says the husband. You love me, says the wife. You love me, say the parents. You love me, say the children. You love me, says my friend. You love me, I say. Which in practical terms means you follow my rules, my laws. And the other person, tells me you follow my rules, my laws. For you it is ABC. For me is XYZ. And with these laws we make life impossible to everyone.
All our relationships are based on law. You must earn money, you must respect me, you must do the barbecue, you must do the lawn. Or the husband : you must cook for me, you must keep my clothes clean for me, you must do this for me.
There is no love. There is just a demand to be loved. While in Christianity what is important is not to be loved but to love. “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice ( Mat 9:13; see also Hosea 6:6 ). “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Mat 12:7). It’s not a matter of making a law, your own law, and then spending your life criticizing and condemning others in the name of this law.
A real love
How can we get out of this predicament? We need love. Others cannot give us love because they also need love. He is empty. She is empty. He is hungry for love. I am hungry for love.
If one is hungry he will look for food everywhere. However if one is stuffed with food, then he starts giving food to others spontaneously. The same with love. If one is starved for love, he will do anything to get it and to defend the little he has. But if one is full of love, then he has no problem in handing love to others.
‘There is need of only one thing”, Jesus says. And that is love. Because if you have love, you have everything. And if you have everything, you are happy. And there is only way to get love. Mary has found it and this source of love ‘will not be taken away from her’. She has found Jesus.
If we discover someone who loves us for what we are and not for what we should be, if we find someone who loves us even when we are not lovable, if we discover someone who loves us even when we break all the laws, then our hearts will easily be filled with this pure love. And the moment our hearts are full, then we can relax and we can stop demanding love from others.
A real prayer
Yes, be smart! Sometimes when you are on the internet, the line keeps disconnecting. This Gospel reading is telling us : stay connected constantly with Jesus, the maximum of love. Sometimes downloading is so slow that it is exasperating. This Gospel reading is telling us : Get on a fast lane… the Jesus lane, and the downloading of love becomes swift and quick!
How right was this woman when she penned down this prayer. My only wish is to see God. My only fear is to lose him. My only pain is that he is still not completely mine.. My joy is in everything that leads me to him.
If we have Him, we can love. And if we can love, we shall be happy.
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.