To all our “beloved” of St. Philip Neri Parish,
Greetings and blessings to you and all your family,
“Yes Lord, we have come to believe that you have made us to ‘live as a family’. We need one another – to love one another, to forgive one another, to celebrate each other. These are our hopes and ideals; help us to attain them.
We ask this in Jesus’ name … Amen.
Jesus said: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come, not to abolish, but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17)
The story of Martha and Mary is often interpreted as the spiritual struggle between contemplation and action / service. For most of us, we too can struggle – am I a Martha (always bust and the perennial care-giver)? Or am I Mary (passive and seemingly indifferent to hospitality and kitchen preparations)? Yet, we read that “Mary has chosen the better part.” What can we make of this?
Allow mw to present another “moral of the story” – because there is much more to this story and these two sisters than we may think. It is centered around the “role of women” in the life of Jesus, and a new and significant role Jesus offers women, contrary to Jewish tradition and culture.
Martha is the one who “went to meet him, while Mary stayed at home” (John 11:20) she is presented as the type of character who can’t sit still, is “worried and distracted by many things” (Luke 10:41). Both Martha and Mary are grieving over the death of their brother Lazarus. Martha speaks her mind to Jesus: “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” And then, once in the house, again she complains and rags on her sister, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me!”
She not only speaks “out of turn) (as a woman), but also extends her role as the one who “should be in the kitchen”.
Now listen, this is the same woman who makes a stunning profession of faith – equal to that of St. Peter who responds to Jesus’ question at Caesarea Philippi: “You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Martha to acknowledges Jesus as “the Resurrection and the Life, that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the One coming into the world”. Jesus presents Martha as “a woman of faith”, equal to the men, called to discipleship and a deep relationship to the Father. Jesus presents Martha as proclaiming the same words, the same faith as Peter, thereby becoming his female counterpart and co-founder of the faith.
Mary is presented as the one who has “chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:42) Given the customs and cultural norms at that time, there was a clear and decisive separation of the men and the women. The women were confined to the kitchen and the back rooms of the house. Men were privileged to gather in the living room – the place of honour. However, in this story, Mary is crossing boundaries. She boldly greets Jesus “in the living room”, sitting at his feet. To “sit at the feet of the Master” was the customary gesture of one wishing to be a student of the Master (a privilege available only to the boys / men).
Mary obviously ignored these cultural expectations and presented herself as a disciple, assuming equality with men. Jesus not only allowed this to happen, but he also praised and affirmed Mary’s presence – once more giving the Jewish laws and customs a new perspective. Again, it is part of Jesus’ mission to “bring the laws and the prophets to fulfillment”. Everyone is welcome “at the feet of the Master” – to be his disciple. All are welcome, with an openness to all, mutual respect, acceptance and equality … working and living to build the Kingdom of God.
Praise be Jesus Christ… and Mary Immaculate
St. Philip Neri… pray for us
St. Eugene de Mazenod … pray for us
St. Kateri Tekakwitha … pray for us