It has been said that in most volunteer organizations, the church included, often it is 20% of the people who are doing 80% of the work. I’m sure that is what must have been going on in the back of Martha’s head on that day in this story. I can just imagine Martha thinking: “I mean for Pete’s sake Mary, Jesus himself is here and I’m running around like crazy trying to get everything done and in order and there you are sitting on your rear, not lifting a finger to help.” Come to think of it, that is probably what Fr. Emmanuel thinks a lot of the time! I am not one to be much for bustling around when company is coming or there. Fortunately, he does not complain to Jesus about it.
But I think that it is all too common for all of us to have the tendency to look around and think that perhaps we are doing too much work and others are not doing enough of the work. When we start looking around though we fail to continue to focus on why it is we were doing whatever we were doing to start with. God has to be the reason for what everything that we are doing.
We are doing things because we believe God calls us to do them. But when we start looking around at who is pitching in and who is not, we are looking in the wrong place and we are looking for the wrong thing. We need to remember that we don’t have any idea who it is God has called to help us with the task we are working on. If we are convinced that we are doing what God has called us to do, we need to focus on that rather than if others are contributing what we think is their fair share of the project.
Another thing that happens when we start turning our eyes from God and the task God has placed before us and looking at the contributions of others is that we tend to start judging them and complaining. That is exactly what Martha was doing. It is not that all the work she was doing was wrong, I don’t think that is the point of the story at all. But she was unhappy that others had not joined her in her choice. If she was working, she wanted everyone working as well. She wanted to have none of this sitting around taking it easy when there is work to be done. And so she makes judgments about Mary choices and complains to Jesus for justice.
Stephen Covey in his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” divides the things we have to do in our life into four quadrants. One of those quadrants are those things that are urgent and unimportant. They are things that don’t really matter all that much but for whatever reason seem urgent to us. I’m sure many things in my schedule fall into that category. And I’m willing to guess that was the case with most of Martha’s running around. The stuff was really not that important but with Jesus right there it took on an urgency that Martha found compelling.
Another quadrant is the important and urgent. The thing about the stuff in this category is that they always get done. Being the urgency and importance drives them to be done. But a third quadrant is the important and not urgent. They are things that matter to me, things that are important to me, but nothing is pressing to make sure they get done. But all too often those things that are urgent but unimportant force their way to the fore and they get the attention rather than that which is urgent.
Often doing things, keeping busy, gives us a feeling of accomplishment. It is easy to turn our faith into a series of doing things, things that can become so routine that we forget why we were even doing them in the first place.
Martha falls into a trap that goes beyond her failure of judging others. She tries to get God to do the dirty work of correcting the faults she sees in Mary. It is an easy trap to fall in. If we can get God to do our dirty work for us in correcting what we believe are the faults of others we can elevate our judgments of others to a very compelling and holy level.
In the final analysis what Marta was doing, making preparations, cleaning, was not in and of itself wrong. But Martha was missing an opportunity. She was missing the opportunity for time with Jesus. With all the cares and concerns of the world in our own lives we must guard against that very same mistake. We need to be careful to not allow the concerns of what is going on right now, the urgent, to displace the things that are vitally important in our life, namely, those things which draw us closer to God.
Resources for 21st Ordinary Sunday
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