Reflection with Martha and Mary

May 2019

by Catherine Maresca

My friend Joan Bennett (the artist of our Scripture Booklets for the atrium) wrote the icon pictured here of Martha and Mary for me. The year we spent in dialogue about them shaped some of the details of the icon. And our own friendship also deepened as we saw how closely they lived as sisters and friends of Jesus, and also how they made choices that reflected and respected their own freedom. 

I asked for this particular icon because I’ve been aware of the dynamic of both Martha and Mary within myself, and thought they might guide me in the choices before me at home, in the office, and in the atrium. Here is a reflection I wrote this winter that may be helpful as you approach the summer months of rest and restoration of both catechist and materials.

They stand, inviting me into their home and into the presence of Jesus. Martha with water for cleansing, Mary with oil for healing.

They invite me to choose. “Do you want to sit with me here by Jesus?” 

“Do you want to help me prepare a meal?”

I sit. But as Martha moves through the room she becomes unhappy with her choice. She feels stuck. She wants to sit as well.

Jesus catches her eye, and she explodes, “Tell Mary to help me.”

Jesus answers, “Martha, Martha,” bringing her attention to herself. “You are distracted by many things – only one is necessary.”

What is the one thing?

“Mary has chosen what is better,” Jesus says. Better for whom? Not for Martha. Not for the guests. Not for Jesus. Better for herself. 

Is that the one thing? To choose what is right for oneself. To choose again when needed. Not to choose for Mary. Not to tell Jesus to tell Mary what to do. But for Martha to choose freely the right thing for herself. And when making dinner ceases to be right for her, to choose again. 

Is Jesus saying to let Mary choose for herself, and encouraging Martha and each of us to do so as well? And what if no one cooks dinner? So be it. There are always times when we each do want to serve, to cook, to be busy with our hands as well as our ears. Can we trust that our choices for ourselves will be blessed, protected by God, and fit into the needs of the whole community? That’s a lot of trust.

It’s the same trust we have in the atrium. Each child has freedom of choice. We honor this, and trust they are choosing well for themselves, and that their choice does not limit the choices of others. We all respect each other’s choices. And it bears fruit in the depth of concentration and joy present in the room.

For me, I love sitting, and try to let myself enjoy that choice without guilt or worry. And I know that there will always arise in me the need to serve, to help, to work, again without guilt or worry.

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