Genesis 18:1 – 10. Col 1: 24 – 28 Luke 10: 38 – 42
We can hardly read this Old Testament passage without thinking of the famous Roublev icon and all that has been said about it. That brings us into lofty realms and speculation about the Blessed Trinity. But both this and the Luke gospel passage present us with down-to-earth domestic scenes – and since they are domestic, it is not surprising that both feature a woman working in the kitchen! And both women are chided; Martha for being ‘anxious’ and Sarah (not in the lectionary reading) for laughing at the message.
At the Oak of Mamre it is an ordinary day, with nothing much happening, when the Divine breaks in in the form of three travellers. Their arrival brings a demand to which Abraham responds generously, with the help of Sarah. He quickly recognises the Divine presence and later receives an extraordinary message – he and Sarah are to have a son. We may not, like Abraham¸ play a starring role in sacred history but in our lives too God may ‘appear’ in the bits and pieces of an uneventful day, bringing a demand or a message. We need to be attentive and quick to recognise.
In Bethany, too, it is an ordinary day because it is not unusual for Jesus to drop in on his dear friends for relaxation, companionship and a meal.
On this occasion Mary, especially, provided the company, Martha the meal. Perhaps Mary’s quiet presence and attentive listening was what was most needed. But surely Jesus needed and appreciated Martha’s meal also, so why did he chide her, however gently and affectionately? It was not for doing what she was doing or for being busy but for fretting and being anxious. I see Martha as a competent, practical woman who had probably cooked many good meals for Jesus, so why is she anxious or worried?
Maybe she was distracted and was forgetting the real purpose of what she was doing. Maybe ‘ego’ had entered in and she wanted to make an impression and get praise for a ‘super’ meal and so was going way beyond what was needed. Why was she irritated at Mary? Did she really need her help or was she just annoyed at what Mary was enjoying? We all have our own temptations – our own ways of somewhat spoiling an essentially good action. And perhaps we need to be perceptive and see what those we serve really need, which may not be what we are all set to give them.
Sr. Genevieve Mooney OP