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Martha and Mary – Kitchen Contemplatives

By July 19, 2022Blog, Faith

Martha and Mary – Kitchen Contemplatives

Last Sunday’s Gospel told the story of Jesus’ visit to his friends, sisters Martha and Mary and their brother Lazarus at their home in Bethany. The story has long been used by theologians and church leaders to emphasise the superiority of the contemplative lifestyle over the active. This is a great pity as such an interpretation does an injustice to our understanding of the importance of both.The family at Bethany was probably the closest Jesus ever got to having a real family during his three year long ministry. A few miles from Jerusalem, Bethany was a sort of bolt hole for him, somewhere he could retire to and be himself, far from the madding crowd. I have the feeling that he was probably a regular visitor there.The Mary in the story has in the past been confused with Mary Magdalene (whose feast day, incidentally, occurs on Friday of this week) but scripture scholars now believe that she was a different Mary, Mary of Bethany. Anyway, Mary did more than serve and help. According to the original manuscripts (with the exception of only one version), Mary ‘also’ sat down at the Lord’s feet. That word ‘also’ is missing from the reading in yesterday’s Gospel but it shouldn’t be because it suggests that Mary, like her sister Martha, was also engaged in the housework.Martha was busy, but Mary was busy, too. But Mary did that something extra. Interestingly, Jesus let both sisters go their own way. He appreciated Martha with her running up and down the kitchen. That running was definitely a sign of her love for him. But when Martha started to criticise her sister for not helping her with the serving and for sitting at his feet, he spoke out. He said that Mary was right to make time for listening to him no matter how busy she was. We, too, need to make time in the hostile and bustle of our day to sit and listen (ie pray) to the Lord.Ideally, the Christian life should be a combination of both the active and contemplative lifestyles. They are the two sides of the same coin as Thomas Merton put it. One only engages in the active apostolate because one has first been (and continues to be) a contemplative. The one leads directly to the other. One of the best examples of this combination in modern times was Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. In so many ways, she is the ideal role model for our times. But more about her on another occasion.

Fr. Gerry McFlynn

Author Fr. Gerry McFlynn

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