Grace to you!
Last Sunday, our reflection centered on the wonderful story of the Good Samaritan and how it inspires service, mercy and love without boundaries. The story could be found here. Today, we are presented with another side of the coin, namely when service can be a distraction. This reflection will use the two characters (Martha and Mary) in the Gospel story of Luke 10:38-42 as our object of study.
Martha was a friend of Jesus (John 11:5). She had many great qualities:
1. She was a very generous (and wealthy) girl: She owned a large home and housed both Lazarus and Mary, her siblings. She also entertained Jesus and the other guests.
2. Martha was a courageous person and was ready to risk her life for her friendship with Jesus: From biblical records, this invitation of Martha to Jesus for a public dinner in her house was shortly after Jesus was labeled for persecution, sort of public enemy no.1 (see to John 7:25, 30, 32). Leading up to this, many of his disciples and his brethren rejected him (see John 6:66, 7:3-5) and others spoke openly against him (John 7:20, 43-44). Martha boldly welcomed him and was willing to let the world know of her friendship and devotion to Jesus. Unbelievable loyalty!
3. Martha was a loving and caring person, and has strong filial concern for her siblings Mary and Lazarus. Note that Martha was housing both of them (John 11: 1f).
4. Martha was a person with great faith in Jesus and in the Resurrection. See John 11: 20-27 for further reading.
So we confirm that Martha was an exceptionally sacrificing and service-oriented person. She could fit the description of the Good Samaritan.
Let us, therefore, turn to Mary, who also was a friend of Jesus, for a brief analysis. Mary had a number of strong qualities too.
1. Mary was loving and humble: She had a strong devotion to Jesus, inspiring her to seek closeness with him. She showed that closeness in humility by sitting often at the feet of Jesus (see also John 11:32).
2) Mary had a deep spiritual hunger for God and God’s Word: Note; “she sat down at the feet of Jesus and listened to him speak.” This shows spiritual hunger, readiness to hear, a desire to surrender and the enthusiasm to act by what one has heard. In theology, this is called “the act of faith.”
Mary had shortcomings too, namely less attention to service, which has its negative implications to the spiritual life. For want of time, I won’t go into that today. Let’s focus on Martha. Based on the story, the major weakness of Martha is distraction.
The Greek περιεσπᾶτο (periespato) used in the text, which literally means to ‘be distracted,’ also suggests the idea of being drawn around, twisted, tangled up, encumbered, drawn here and there or overburdened. Martha was drawn around and twisted by a number of things: anxiety, worry, workaholism, individual cares for each of the guests, all the preparations and indeed, material concerns.
Just like many of us, sometimes we get tangled up with so many social affairs that we ignore the place of prayer, of contemplation and the why of our actions. A discerning mind is crucial.
The consequences of distraction in the life of Martha were enormous:
1) Martha became a complainant –“Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do all the serving by myself?” Watch it! When we begin to complain too often, we may have been distracted or busier than we should be. A readjustment could be very helpful.
2) Martha even accused Jesus by the above statement. Was she implying that Jesus was not responsible enough to tell Mary to help her? She seemed as upset with Jesus as with Mary. We may discover that when we are upset with Jesus because of one thing or the other, we may have been distracted. Blessed are we when we do not take offense at Jesus (Matthew 11:6). When encumbered, please do not take it out on Jesus or on anyone else. Look inwards, and cut down certain things. More rest could help too.
3) Martha wasted a lot of energy in the process and lost sight of the crucial point in her life, quality time (devotion) with Jesus her friend.
From this brief analysis we have a message for us today. The text isn’t suggesting that Jesus was favoring contemplation over service. Instead, Jesus was pointing to the danger of getting so much involved with social activities that we ignore the crucial aspect of prayer. The saying, “to work is to pray” could be misleading.
Distraction is a great danger to the spiritual life and in our relationships. It leads to a number of faults, which do not encourage growth. It leads to dissipation of energy, unnecessary complaints, quarrels, lack of productivity, lack of vision and sense of mission, waste of time and resources, and lack of devotion.
Take for instance, the situation with many marriages. May it not be that distraction is related to the high rate of divorce in our contemporary society. Undue attention to work, sports, travels, academic awards, business and professional life, internet, movies, etc., could be a distraction to the quality time of marriage and family bonding. Do we have quality time to appreciate each other?
In the spiritual life, distraction creates a new form of idol – activism. It doesn’t allow for devotion to Jesus/God and God’s Word. Let us be clear about this: When service (work or other activities) replaces our devotion to God and God’s Word, religious obligations and spiritual commitments, we may have set a standard which is not a better option by Jesus’ paradigm.
Often I hear people say, I am too busy to pray, read my Bible, go to Mass or attend to religious devotions. As the saying goes “when we are too busy to pray, we are busier than God wants us to be.”
May God help us to be like Martha in service as well as compliment our service with devotion to God, like Mary. Simply be like the father of faith, Abraham, who served and waited on his angelic guests (see Genesis 18:1-10), and thereby received divine blessings.
Knowing when to serve and when to step aside and listen, contemplate and pray is the hallmark of mature spirituality.
God love you. God bless you!
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Sunday 17 July 2016: Genesis 18:1-10; 2nd: Colossians 1:24-28: Gospel: Luke 10: 38-42]
Fr. Maurice Emelu, Ph.D.
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on Scriptural readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.