What is the big issue with Marthas and Marys?

ByToni Rowland

Jul 23, 2019

“You’re definitely a Martha,” I was told once again.  “You’re always busy with something. You’re a workaholic!” Is that what Jesus would have called Martha 2000 years ago, a workaholic?  Or a carer, maybe a perfectionist even, but not just someone busy for the sake of being busy, but out of concern for others.  Was Jesus not a little bit nasty saying that Mary had chosen the better part, sitting at his feet listening like a good disciple?

This scripture passage comes up for discussion every so often but it is also beginning to be seen in a rather different light.  We, women, would like to have men in the kitchen preparing the meal.  We, women, would like to sit and hang on the lips of our favourite preacher, but surely someone has to provide for the inner man too.  Or should we just stop worrying and see what happens?

I reflected on this Sunday reading in the context of grandparents whose month MARFAM commemorates and whose contribution to family life can be celebrated on 26th July, the feastday of Joachim and Ann, grandparents of Jesus. I suggested that we should show a sign of appreciation for the “Martha thing” that so many grandparents, especially grandmothers, do and not always out of choice.   I also suggested that we balance it with a “Mary thing” by setting up a prayer movement, praying for the good and needs of our grandchildren.  A group of grandparents can meet to share their joys and their concerns and offer mutual support.  Sometimes we’re not keen to share some of the problems we experience ourselves – granny abuse happens – or to talk about negative experiences in the lives of the young ones.  But just praying in such a  group can be a valuable resource in the Church to make us more family-conscious.

Pope Francis in his homily on last Sunday (16th Sunday year C) more or less confirmed this approach when he promoted the importance of a balance between the Martha and the Mary thing.

Who Was Mary?

Another reflection came to me with regard to Mary.  Quite a lot has been written about her identity as there is some confusion in the gospels about three Marys. Martha’s sister is not likely to be the same person identified as Mary Magdalene but Luke nevertheless refers to her as a forgiven and reformed sinner and the one who anointed Jesus.  This Mary was clearly very close to and devoted to Jesus. . What role would her experience have played in that relationship?  If she had been a promiscuous woman, possibly rejected by others but touched by the compassionate and accepting gaze of Jesus which moved her to abandon her sinful ways, how strong and powerful would her love be? When she washes his feet with her tears, wipes them with her hair and pours precious ointment over his head she is criticised. Jesus defends her saying, “much is forgiven her because she has loved much.’

Pope Francis in his post Jubilee reflection Misericordia et Misera uses this example too of a sinful rejected woman who experiences Jesus’ mercy.

An unusual congregation.

Alcide-Vital Lastaste a young French Dominican priest, known as Father Jean-Joseph, in the 19th century in France founded a very unusual religious congregation.  Clearly a very sensitive and loving man he had already experienced the death of the young woman he had hoped to marry. Not long after being ordained he was invited to preach a retreat to 400 young woman prison inmates.  Most were poor, uneducated, abused and abandoned and forced to live on the streets, in survival mode, stealing and soliciting; yet hardly criminals.

Overcome with compassion Fr Jean-Joseph addressed them as sisters and introduced them to God’s mercy and the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. He introduced them to the Mass, confession and a way of faith.  His mission became to help these women.  He knew that when they were released they would not be trusted or accepted back into society so he was determined to reshape public opinion about them.

He founded an order where women leaving prison could begin a religious life in a contemplative setting. The order the Dominican Sisters of Bethany still serves women around the world today.   Alcide died at the age of 36 and was declared blessed in 2012.    (From Aleteia  21 July)

Much credit must be given to such an initiative.  What still remains even in the world today is the lack of trust and acceptance of women who have been sex-workers on the streets, those who have been trafficked or been imprisoned for whatever crime.   They and their male counterparts deserve the compassion of Jesus too from us who may well say, “there but for the grace of God go I.”     TR Family Weekly 24 July 2019

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