Nobody really "gets" St. Martha, do they? I'm sure many of you have heard of the book (which I haven't read, and which actually looks like a good book) Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World. The first time I heard that title, I wasn't sure what to think of it - I loved Martha, and I felt that she was misunderstood. Then I became a wife and mother, and would occasionally entertain people at our home; an experience that made me sympathize with Martha even more.
When most people hear Martha's name, the story that probably comes to mind is of Martha frantically preparing dinner while Mary (her sister) sits at the feet of Christ. Poor Martha asks Jesus to get Mary to help her, and is instead told that Mary has "chosen the better part." What?!
(Her sweet uncle/godfather sent her the new Dr. Seuss book for her birthday!)
But there is a second option for the Gospel reading on the feast of St. Martha. It is the story of Lazarus (brother of Mary and Martha) being raised from the dead. In this story, it is Martha who professes unequivocal belief in Jesus as "the Christ...the Son of God." The only other profession in the Gospels that can compare comes from the mouth of St. Peter. We don't hear this kind of profession come from Mary of Bethany's mouth. We hear it coming from her sister.
These two stories go together, I think. I have the feeling that Jesus knew Martha pretty well (not just because He was the Son of God, but also because He was dear friends with her family) and that the story with Martha rushing around working was not an isolated incident. I think she was like a lot of women are - trying to do a million things at once and getting really stressed.
I used to wonder why it was that Jesus told her to drop her work and sit with her sister, but now I realize - he didn't say that. Not explicitly, at least. He wasn't talking about Mary's physical posture, but her spiritual one. Presumably, Mary wasn't showing off to her sister - "Look what a good follower of Jesus I am! Haha!" - but was just really longing to listen to the words of Jesus. Maybe Martha was, too. Or maybe Martha was so dang stressed about getting her home Pinterest perfect that she forgot who had come to visit her. She thought it all relied on her.
(Tagging along with Mommy to get the car fixed meant brunch at McD's!)
What Jesus is telling Martha is not to abandon her work, but to bear in mind that He will provide. The perfection He seeks is not picking ourselves up by our bootstraps. It's turning to Him and asking for the grace to get it all done. If Martha had wanted to take a break, she could have, but I think what Jesus was telling her was even more important. He was telling her to rely on Him, and to know that if she rested in Him, he would indeed provide for her needs.
That's why this story really has to be read hand-in-hand with the other Gospel story, the one of Martha's profession of faith. Martha knew how to get things done, and coupling that with a deepened faith and a willingness to come running to Christ in her time of need (because, notice, she's the one who comes to Jesus with her needs in this story, not Mary)...well, that is the makings of a saint.
And so it is with us. In our vocations, God desires our activity, our busyness. But He also wants to be sure that we seek Him with all our hearts in the midst of our busyness, relying fully on him to help us get done all that we need to do. Having worked in ministry, and now caring full time for my daughters, it seems like those of us who spend our lives serving others (like Martha did) need to be reminded of this the most. For, if we don't do what we do for love of God- why are we doing it?
St. Martha, pray for us, that we may have faith like yours!