10 October 2017
The word of the Lord was addressed a second time to Jonah: ‘Up!’ he said ‘Go to Nineveh, the great city, and preach to them as I told you to.’ Jonah set out and went to Nineveh in obedience to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was a city great beyond compare: it took three days to cross it. Jonah went on into the city, making a day’s journey. He preached in these words, ‘Only forty days more and Nineveh is going to be destroyed.’ And the people of Nineveh believed in God; they proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least. The news reached the king of Nineveh, who rose from his throne, took off his robe, put on sackcloth and sat down in ashes. A proclamation was then promulgated throughout Nineveh, by decree of the king and his ministers, as follows: ‘Men and beasts, herds and flocks, are to taste nothing; they must not eat, they must not drink water. All are to put on sackcloth and call on God with all their might; and let everyone renounce his evil behaviour and the wicked things he has done. Who knows if God will not change his mind and relent, if he will not renounce his burning wrath, so that we do not perish?’ God saw their efforts to renounce their evil behaviour, and God relented: he did not inflict on them the disaster which he had threatened.
Jesus came to a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. She had a sister called Mary, who sat down at the Lord’s feet and listened to him speaking. Now Martha who was distracted with all the serving said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do the serving all by myself? Please tell her to help me.’ But the Lord answered: ‘Martha, Martha,’ he said ‘you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her.’
“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?”
Today’s gospel reading is very special to me. St Martha is my confirmation saint. Her story has always resonated with me because of the two sisters, Martha is the one that’s more relatable. She’s the woman of action, the superheroine go-getter who has the gumption to invite Jesus for dinner in the first place (Luke 10:38). You can identify with her because her traits are so human. You’ve probably been in her position yourself – overworked, under-resourced and overwhelmed. That’s the predicament of the majority of people who work in service. It’s no wonder she’s our patron saint!
Though Scripture focuses on how Mary made better choices, it is Martha who inspires us with her courage and chutzpah. In John 11:21-22, a grieving Martha goes out to meet Jesus and scolds him, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know thar whatever you ask from God, God will give you”, as if to demand of Jesus, “You had better fix this. He’s dead because you were late!”. Her tone is implied to be more forceful than Mary’s, because Mary ‘fell at his feet’ (John 11:32). In the same forthright manner, she matter-of-factly informs Jesus that she believes him to be Christ, the Messiah and Son of God. Her proclamation is similar to Peter’s in Matt 16:16, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God”. Martha’s story is not without a happy ending, despite how Scripture paints her. In John 12 we are told that “six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany where he had raised Lazarus, the dead man, to life. Now they gave a dinner for him and while Martha waited on them, Lazarus sat at the table with Jesus” (John 12:1-2). It’s a simple verse, yet we can infer that Martha has made peace with herself and her vocation to be of service to Christ and his disciples. There’s no demanding, no scolding and no foot-stamping. She’s happy to simply wait on them.
There is a famous verse in the Book of Matthew for the overburdened and the fatigued – “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). I’d like to believe that in the midst of her domestic chaos, Martha would have whispered this prayer herself — and that God, in His infinite grace, heard her cry and gave her the resources she needed to complete her tasks. What an inspiration that is to all of us who labor in service!
(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)
Prayer: We pray for all those who labor with limited resources, that they find what they need, just when they need it.
Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the reserves of strength that God sends us when we come to the end of our rope!