As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.”
The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” Luke 10:38-42
Help! Pope Francis is coming to Philadelphia and like Martha in Luke’s Gospel, we are all anxious and worried about many things. Traffic boxes and train passes. Will we be able to get to work or to the events? Tickets. Will we be able to see the Pope?
Work. How many people will be sleeping on cots in cafeterias and offices so that the sick will be cared for and people kept fed and safe?
Extra work, extra people, extra hassle. We are all Martha at the moment — wishing it was our turn to be Mary. To have the choice to sit, and enjoy whatever those days might bring.
I always struggle with this Gospel, with a literal reading that suggests the women working in Martha’s kitchen in Bethany should have known better, abandoned dinner and come to sit with Jesus — and that when faced with the necessary tasks of life, or preparing for a papal visit, we should all go on strike, find a church and sit with God. As if we could.
St. Augustine once said that miracles “have a tongue of their own … let us not only be delighted with (their) surface, but let us also seek to know (their) depth.” Augustine, preaching on the story of Martha and Mary, reminds us that Jesus was not only God, but man, and so needed to eat and drink. Martha “with deep concern” prepared the food that strengthened Jesus’ body to do the work he was sent to do.
It was not work that could be ignored, said Augustine. Nor can we all ignore the work that must be done to feed and care for not only the pope, but the many visitors to the city.
As I read through the story of Martha and Mary again this morning, trying to hear what simmers under the surface of the story, I found myself hearing Jesus saying to Martha, “there is need of only one thing.” What, I wonder, is the “one thing” we ought not to lose sight of right now, in the midst of the many things we are anxious about?
In his book “Reimagining the Ignatian Examen,” Mark Thibodeaux, S.J., suggests a way of looking at your day that I am finding helpful as I seek that “one thing” in the midst of all the chaos and uncertainty of the preparations for Pope Francis’ visit.
At the end of each day, ask God three things: “Who wore your face for me today?” “In what person did I fail to find your presence?” and “Was there some person I encountered today who needed me to be your presence?” These questions remind me that always and everywhere the one thing I should be looking for is Jesus, in the people I encounter — troublesome and otherwise — in the people who are helped by the work I do, visible or not.
The pope’s visit has a tongue of its own, reminding us that we are all the Body of Christ, and it is here, in the kitchens and in our office and in the work we do, that we get next to Jesus, to hear what he has to teach us. Over these next three weeks, and beyond, that is the better part of what we must do.
To read: An excerpt from Father Thibodeaux’s book at “People for Others.”
To listen: “Calm me, Lord!” by Margaret Rizza
Michelle Francl-Donnay is a member of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, Bryn Mawr.