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Martha was disappointed with the dinner rolls. She had not allowed enough time for the dough to rise, so the rolls came out flat. She should have started earlier in the day; the meal took longer to prepare than she expected. There was the delay at the market trying to find cucumber for the salad and the right spice for the fish. Now she was rushing, trying to get the table set before the fish dried out. Her sister, Mary, seemed oblivious to all the preparations. She was sitting with Jesus in the front room engaged in a thoughtful conversation. That drove Martha crazy! Mary had no idea what it took to put on a nice dinner. Exasperated, Martha asked Jesus to tell Mary to help.
With much affection, Jesus pointed out to Martha that she was overly concerned about the meal. The dinner rolls were perfectly fine and Jesus would happily help set the table when it was time to eat. In the meantime, Martha was missing an opportunity to enjoy the company of her guest, which, of course, was the whole reason she invited Jesus to dinner in the first place.
Years later Martha probably remembered the gentle admonition of Jesus. Of course, a tigress cannot change her stripes completely. Martha would always be a bit of a perfectionist, but she could laugh at herself whenever she realized that she was overly anxious about a job that needed to be done. Martha and Mary continued to host dinner parties long after Jesus had ascended to heaven. To Martha’s credit, the meals were remembered more for the fellowship than for the dinner rolls.
Many of us are like Martha. We are organized, generous and hardworking, but we can get so wrapped up in doing our chores that we lose sight of the people right in front of us. Jesus offers us the same gentle encouragement that he gave to Martha: not to let our busyness distract us from what is most important. We must choose wisely what we will do with our limited amount of time and be sure to include opportunities to relax with family members and enjoy the company of friends.
Of course, finding a little time to spend with God is important, too. God invites us to share in the work of the Kingdom as parents, plumbers and pianists, but we do not want to so fill our lives with work that we miss the opportunity to reconnect with the One who called us to that work in the first place. Like Martha, sometimes we need to put the tasks aside and sit down with Jesus for a good conversation.
For the Mass readings for October 4, click here. To learn more about the painting of the Martha and Mary, click here.
Author’s note: St. Ignatius Loyola encouraged us to use our imagination in contemplating Scripture passages so that we might draw greater fruit from them. In reflecting on the story of Martha and Mary I use my imagination to fill in some of the details of the story.