By KRISTINE SCHROEDER
We children were raised by an efficiency expert. Before Mom left for her 7 a.m. shift at the hospital, she had already put in a load of laundry and made oatmeal for our breakfast. Mom wasted few moments. I often told friends that she accomplished more in an hour than most people did in a day. Maybe it was that farm girl upbringing. Whatever it was, she passed that efficiency trait on to us, for better or not.
By 8 a.m. most Saturday mornings, Mom had my sister and me up helping with the weekly house cleaning. The older boys were assigned to the outdoors (It was the 70’s; jobs were still gender-specific). As we aged, our list of chores lengthened. We learned to somewhat cook, monitor younger siblings and take care of ourselves.
Those responsibilities were beneficial. They instilled in us a confidence and work ethic that has served each of us well as adults. We became the Marthas of Biblical fame, and we were proud of it. However, due to those early lessons, I used to misinterpret the Scripture concerning Martha and Mary. While Mary sits at the feet of Jesus “listening to him speak,” Martha is perspiring over a brick oven anxious to assure that all will be flawless for their honored guest, Jesus Christ! Who wouldn’t want things perfect?
When Martha expresses her frustration about Mary’s lack of assistance, what is Jesus’ comment? “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41). Ouch! That comment not only stung, but it also appeared to show a lack of appreciation. Ahh! But finally, I comprehended the beauty of the lessons in this Gospel.
Jesus made that statement because He dearly loved Martha and wanted her to be a saint with him in heaven someday. He understood how worldly concerns pulled her away from hearing and absorbing His word. And, although it was a risk to their friendship, he spoke with honesty, not empathy, realizing His message was essential at that moment.
To Martha’s credit, she did not react defensively. At some point, she accepted His word and listened with her heart. The humility to recognize her faults allowed her to have a deeper conversion. Martha’s resentment toward Mary had created a blindness to the fact that stillness and attentiveness to God’s word is of more spiritual value than a perfect table and impressive food.
Scripture says, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4). Martha, I believe, took a step closer to becoming a saint that day. Her resentment disappeared, and her faith grew because, instead of angrily pointing her finger outward, she opened her ears to Jesus’ critique and searched her soul for what needed to be changed inwardly.
I admire Martha. She, even more than her sister, directs us toward Jesus. I say that because most of us live like her. We fill our days with what we perceive are necessary tasks. How many times have I sat in Mass fully intending to focus on the readings and sermon? Inevitably, my mind drifts to planning the events of the day, making a grocery list or wondering who that new person in the pew across the aisle is. Then, like the old comedies, I mentally drag myself back with the shepherd’s staff only to refocus until something else distracts me.
Like Martha also, we require daily reminders of the blessings of silence and reflection. The Bible states that it is only in this stillness that we find true communion with Christ. For a lucky few, that practice is a daily reality. For most of us, it is our daily task. We must carve out a routine that puts Christ’s plans first and our plans second. Think about it. How often have we made a list that begins with: Spend 20 minutes with Jesus today?
If we begin our day communing with God through prayer and Scripture, I believe our eyes and ears will be opened to many more blessings and encounters with Him throughout the moments of the day. St. Martha is a beautiful inspiration for us busy people.