Listen to him (Lk 9, 35)
They accuse him of being a glutton and a drunkard, a friend besides of tax collectors and sinners. But Jesus keeps on valuing every person and having a predilection for the underdog. He honors the invitation of both the Pharisee Simon and the tax collector Matthew.
And he is welcomed into the home of Martha and Mary. He thus gives importance to women who hardly count in a male-dominated society. Their sufferings also, along with those of all the people undervalued by the world, fill up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. They too deserve to receive formation. To esteem them means to teach them with all wisdom and to instruct them affectionately in hurtful truth too.
Through an admonition, though tender, given the vocative, “Martha, Martha,” Jesus makes clear, as on other occasions, what he cares about above all. He asserts that there is only one thing necessary, which spells genuine intimacy with him. It is the better part that Mary has chosen: sitting beside the Lord at his feet, she listens to him speak. Martha, on the other hand, is anxious and worried.
No doubt, there is room in our communities for the Marthas and the Marys. The Church recognizes it when she prays: “Lord Jesus, master, Mary listened to your words while Martha served your needs, help us to serve you with love and devotion” (Intercessions, Morning Prayer, the Common of Holy Women, Liturgy of the Hours). For his part, St. Vincent de Paul says that good missionaries are those who unite the office of Martha with that of Mary by uniting contemplation with action (Coste XI, 40-41). But if the saint urges us to love God with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brows, he also speaks of Martha’s less than discreet zeal (Coste II, 71).
As St. Vincent sees her, Martha murmurs against the “holy idleness and the holy sensuality” of her sister Mary, looking upon her as doing wrong for not being as worked up as she is. But what a great surprise from God’s wisdom and knowledge—the saint continues—for this idleness and this sensuality turn out to be preferable. This is the same kind of surprise, I think, that results when a son who has answered his father, “I will not,” changes his mind later and fulfills the father’s command.
We are in for an unpleasant surprise, those of us who are today’s Pharisees, chief priests and elders of the people, those of us who behave like the elder son who refuses to celebrate the return of his prodigal brother. We who presume too much of our way of serving and living, in compliance with the minute details of ecclesiastical regulations, as the only one that counts, so that we question those who differ from us, will be admonished: “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.”
And it is not altogether impossible that we who feel secure and justified, with all of our multiplied prayers and liturgies, are rebuked to our face that these are loathsome or that, when we meet for Mass, we end up not celebrating the Lord’s Supper, due to our neglect of justice and sharing. It is not impossible either that the people we disregard, taking them as something like a mirage that is brought about by the day’s heat, are the messengers of the God who is never outdone in generosity.
Do we see them now single, now double? Incomprehensible presence of the divine mystery in the underestimated!