“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many
There is need of only one thing.
Mary has chosen the better part
and it will not be taken from her.”
When I was in grade school, I remember being taught in effect
that this story showed the primacy of religious life over married
life. I don’t think that now mainly because it doesn’t
fit with the overall theological orientation of the gospel of Luke.
For Luke there are basically three types of persons: there are those
who feed themselves with the riches or distractions of this world;
there are those who trust in God; and there are the disciples whom
Jesus is attempting to lure away from the first path (a temptation)
into the second path. That would be you and me.
Let’s face it. Martha fits into the first path. Jesus tells
us so: she is burdened, anxious, and worried. These are the opposite
of trusting God. What seems to have happened is that her work has
become her identity and her way of avoiding the essentially human
issues of vulnerability and intimacy between herself, Jesus, and
others. Look at how her burdened, anxious, and worried state spills
over into anger at her sister!
If the meaning of this passage is to fit within Luke’s theology,
then it is not about the problems of the practical person who gets
things done. It’s about the manner in which we live and move
and have our being. It’s about trying so hard to be independent
and self-reliant that we all miss the boat about “trust in
God.” As the lead character says in O Brother, Where Art
Thou?: “Consider the lilies of the (fill-in-the-blanks)
Now, as for St. Francis of Assisi. A tendency exists in our Catholic
world today to treat Francis the way we treat the elderly. “Isn’t
he cute!” In doing so, we dismiss him and render his passion
Francis was a 13th century reformer who, because he saw that attachment
to the things of this world was destroying people’s lives,
discovered freedom in attachment to poverty and emptiness. He’s
a scary person! He’s untamable!
In the past two weeks I have heard comments from colleagues here
at Creighton and elsewhere around the country to the effect that
many of us feel like we are on a moving sidewalk that keeps traveling
faster and faster. It’s tough to get off the thing. This all
results in less time to pray and fewer moments to reflect or be
in touch with self, God, and friends.
Where is the St. Francis of the 21st century who will show us all
how to let go of our attachment to our own independence, need to
be famous, or addictions in order to find liberty in the poverty
of reliance on God, obscurity, and the freedom of the children of