Image: Table fellowship in Tuktoyaktuk
Today we celebrate the memorial of Saint Martha who is probably best remembered for the story told in one of today’s two possible gospels. In the Gospel of Luke we read that she is one of two sisters who hosted Jesus and the disciples for a dinner as Jesus was passing through town. As the company, along with Martha’s sister Mary, relaxed and listened to Jesus in the front room, Martha was hard at work in the kitchen making sure that everything was ready for the big meal about to be served.
Family dynamics are always interesting, and psychologists often describe them as a mobile, one of those balancing toys that you might hang over a baby’s crib. Small objects suspended by a fine string from the end of many cantilevered rods, you pull on one and find that its motion is carried through the entire contraption until all the pieces are bobbing up and down.
The children of a family find their places, over time, in the overall picture but what happens to one ends up affecting them all. In this case, it was Martha who took on the role of the organizer while Mary took the more passive role as she listened to Jesus. You can imagine Martha’s frustration as she worked away unnoticed while everyone else was enjoying the ongoing conversation. Martha could only take so much before her temper would finally get the better of her and she found herself chastising her sister in front of Jesus for not helping out.
In the end it was Martha who was chastised, gently. Jesus reminded her that there is a time for everything. The work that Martha was doing was important but it was not everything. Mary was entitled to have her time listening to him speak and to learn about the good news that he was sharing, for that moment, fellowship with Jesus was more important then the dinner.
But that does not mean that Martha did not have an important role to play in her family. In John’s gospel we find another encounter between Mary and Jesus and this time it is at the sad moment of the death of Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary. While the family is mourning it is Martha who meets Jesus on the road and pleads on behalf of them all for Jesus to do something even though it seems like it far too late. Martha proclaims her faith that Jesus is the Messiah and that if he chose, he could bring her brother back to life.
Mary and Martha both showed great faith, just in different ways. Sibling rivalries sometimes erupt over competition for what might seems to be a limited supply of attention but in God’s family we come to understand that we do not need to compete. Each one of us has a role to play. Our family is not complete until we all find our place around the table of the Lord.