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Martha and Mary: sisters in the faith – part 1

“Mary has chosen the good part…” (Lk 10:38-42)

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In Jesus’s group of disciples there were also some (many?) women. But who can be called a disciple? If by the term "disciples" we mean not only those who physically follow the Lord but also those who follow in his footsteps in a more spiritual sense as a journey of faith and to eventually become fully identified with him and to the Will of God, then certainly these two very special Gospel figures are included – Martha and Mary, the two sisters from Bethany who are always the focus of the Christian experience.

The Evangelists Luke and John speak of them, while John also makes mention of their brother, Lazarus, considered a friend of Jesus. But, by what is inferred and from what the Gospels tell us, we might say that the sisters and brother were friends of the Lord and they frequently and continually welcomed Him in their home in Bethany, a town on the road that leads to Jerusalem.

In this and the next two articles, we will look at three episodes that present us the sisters of Bethany, starting from the first which we find in the Gospel of Luke.

The two episodes narrated by John are in sequential order and cover the last days of Jesus' earthly life; they will be presented in the upcoming articles.

What is striking in all these accounts is the strong affinity between the two Evangelists in their description of the two women; a detail that is very important to emphasize that they were known to the disciples and, in any case, the leading figures of the Lord’s entourage. However, it doesn’t seem that they were ever part of the itinerant group that followed Jesus in his preaching in proclaiming the Kingdom, both present and active.

“Mary has chosen the good part...” (Lk 10:38-42)

Jesus is received by Martha in her home. It is a very ordinary event. Jesus often entered into people’s homes and was received with so much love. Today, in this greeting something is different. Jesus is going to impart a new teaching, and it is precisely Martha who provides the Master with inspiration.

Mary, Martha’s sister, also welcomes Jesus but in a different way – in her heart, and in fact, she sits at His feet to listen to His Word. Martha welcomes Jesus into her home, but Mary welcomes Him into her heart. Jesus had entered the house of Martha, but His true essence did not enter her heart. Instead, it enters Mary’s heart through her love for His Word. In fact, Martha is distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She wants to offer Jesus something good, very good, and so she busies herself with many chores. Yet, Martha cannot contain herself any longer and asks the Lord to intervene and have Mary refrain from listening to the Word and help her.

Jesus wants to bind the human heart and unite it with His so tightly as to make man lose all that is human. But instead of allowing Jesus to act, man realizes that he is letting go of what is human and therefore feels suffocated, anxious and struggles and also wants to look at himself. By looking at himself, being anxious and struggling, the knot that Jesus tied to hold man close to Him widens, resulting in man’s desire to fall away. This prevents Jesus from carrying out His love games. If we do not allow ourselves to be held tightly by Jesus to the point of losing our feeling, He will never extend His graces and charisms.

Jesus gently, very gently, speaks to Martha’s heart and reveals her concern and fret over many things. A woman does not need many things. A woman needs only one thing – that which can never be taken from her, precisely that part which Mary has chosen.

Books and treatises have been written on Jesus’ words in an attempt to understand where the dividing line is between the active and contemplative life. But in His words there is nothing of all this. Jesus places order in the cares and turmoil of human life. First comes what is necessary and then the superfluous; there are things that need to be done, and many things to do. This is man’s first mistake in his actions. He often gets carried away by a multitude of worries and anxieties that do not serve any purpose, except to disquiet his spirit and soul. Jesus desires for us to always keep this distinction in mind and to labor according to an order of values and necessary things. What isn’t strictly necessary can be safely omitted without lacking any respect towards our neighbor.

People should beware of trying to make a good impression owing to the fact that they perform many acts of kindness, or do much, for others. Those who are objects of such acts do not often approach us to receive something, but rather to be received by someone. A person comes to us to give something, he is looking for a person and not things. Even this distinction is necessary and should be put into practice based on a correct interpretation of Jesus’ words.

Martha is missing a very essential point; she forgets it is not up to her to nourish Jesus, rather it is Jesus who came to nourish her, with spiritual nourishment. The spirit takes priority, then comes the body and its daily needs. Letting one’s spirit be nourished by the Lord first, and then tending to daily occupations is the rule for holiness, because a spirit nourished by grace and wisdom is a spirit that knows how to act in conformity with the Divine Will, how to discern, direct and dispose itself, and choose; it even knows how to separate things and ascribe each one the proper weight.

Not nourishing his spirit or obtaining nourishment from God and Jesus, through His Holy Spirit, man today has become become filled with anxiety and restlessness; he is a true son of Martha. Instead, it is fitting that he learn to become an authentic son of Mary, the one who knows how to let Jesus feed his heart with wisdom so that everything else becomes enveloped by divine wisdom and accomplished according to the commands of wisdom in what it wishes to operate. Man’s life totally changes when he disposes himself daily to listen to Jesus and lets his heart be nourished by the divine Word, in search of His Will.

The truly loving soul is not content to love Jesus with anxiety, desires and impulsiveness. On the contrary, it is happy when it is capable of making love its food and daily nourishment; then love becomes strong and serious, leaving behind all those frivolities of love to which the creature is subject. And because love is its food, it has spread to all the members of the body, and being spread about, the creature has the strength to stand up against the flames of love that consume her and give her life. Then containing love in herself and possessing it, the creature no longer feels alive those desires and anxieties, but only feels she is loving even more the love she possesses.

This is the love of the blessed in Heaven; this is God’s very same love. The blessed burn with love, but without anxiety, without clamor, rather with firmness and admirable seriousness. This is a sign that the soul is nourishing itself with love, the more it comes to lose the traits of human love. Because if only desires, anxiety, and impulsiveness are seen, it is a sign that love is not the soul’s food. Instead, it is a particle of itself that it has dedicated to love. And so, not being entirely devoted to love, it doesn’t have the strength to contain it and acts out those rushes of human love because such souls are very fickle and unstable. On the other hand, the former are stable like mountains that never move.

What’s more, Jesus gives Martha his own rule of life. Every day, especially at night, Jesus allowed God the Father to inundate Him with wisdom and knowledge. Then He would have His encounters with others, always acting with perfection, with order, judging rightly all things, giving each the proper importance, necessity, and urgency. Jesus wants man’s actions to be always ruled by the supernatural wisdom that comes down from Heaven. This is the law of Christian holiness.



don Marco
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