July 17, 2016
Gn 18:1-10A Ps 15:2-3, 3-4, 5 Col 1:24-28 Lk 10:38-42
Lk 10:41 – The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.”
Much of the commentary I’ve read or heard on this passage over the years has focused on the differences between Martha’s and Mary’s approach to Jesus, and the importance of quieting ourselves amid the stresses and strains of life so that we can learn from Him. Or homilies on hospitality. Or the fact that Jesus had friends outside of the disciples. Or that Martha was a whiny complainer who had the audacity to order Jesus around. All those things are true to one degree or another.
Today, though, I’m drawn to Jesus’ response to Martha – not so much in what He said, but in the way in which He said it, in how He treated her concern. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not so vain as to think I’m breaking any new theological ground. I’m sure men and women much smarter than I have spoken or written on this. It’s more like Jesus is teaching me something about my own behavior, here and now, and perhaps I’m in a place where I’m finally smart enough to pay attention.
It’s easy to become anxious and worried about many things, because there are so many things that can make us anxious and worried. It’s a daily struggle – sometimes hourly, what with social media’s ability to drown us in a flash flood of information, bad news, and tragedies – to not be paralyzed, or angered, or driven into despair.
To a certain extent, we’re all worried and anxious about stuff. Some people handle stress better than others, while some people do their best to ignore the stuff that’s out of their control. Heck – trying NOT to be anxious and worried can be worrying in and of itself.
Jesus didn’t say: “Martha, will you please just stop worrying? Please? You’re worried over nothing.” Those words have come out of my mouth more than once, and each time, they only made things worse. Why? Along with the fact I can be a jerk, those words are dismissive. It’s saying “I don’t want to know about your problems.” It’s saying “Stop bothering me.” It’s saying “You’re being stupid.” Rather than treating the worrier as someone to love, I’ve treated them as either a problem to be solved, or a problem to be ignored. The person hearing those words believes that he or she is not worth caring about.
Or there’s this response: “Just give it to God”, or “Take it to Jesus.” Those aren’t bad or wrong answers per se – they’re the right answers that can be given at the worst possible moment. The person isn’t looking for answer to their worries – not initially, anyways. They want to know that someone is willing to join them in the deep, dark pit of despair at that moment, not simply leaning over, looking down, and saying “Ehhh, you need a flashlight or somethin’ while you’re down there? Looks pretty dark. I can get you a flashlight.”
What does love do? Love acknowledges the person. Love enters the deep, dark pit of despair with the person and says “I get it. You’re worried. I’m here.” It’s not enabling the worry, it’s not commiserating with the anxiety. It’s just loving the person. And once the worrier knows that someone’s got their back, when a relationship is established – then perhaps we can ask “Are you open to hearing how I deal with anxiety and worry?” and await their reply.
Jesus acknowledged that Martha was anxious and worried – and being the Second Person of the Trinity, He knew why she was. He didn’t need to ask. Maybe she was being a whiny complainer, but rather than scold and chide her, Christ said “I get it. You’re anxious.” (And with all that food to prepare in the above painting, Martha might’ve been justified – there are a lot of birds that need plucking!) We aren’t blessed with omniscience, however, so we have to ask. We have to show empathy, without assumptions, without judgment. We have to recognize that this person – our spouse, our friend, our child, our coworker, whomever – is carrying a cross just as we are, and that our role is to bring Christ to them, so that maybe, just maybe, they can then bring themselves to sit at His feet, and learn. To have their burden lightened by Love.
Image credit: Public Domain via Wikipedia