16th Sunday Ordinary Time 2013 - Jesus with Martha and Mary

 Scripture readings for Sunday's Mass are here.

He Qi Martha Jesus and Mary

In this recent reflection on the gospel Fr. Laurence Freeman identifies the classic symptoms of stress and suffering underneath Martha's exasperated outbursts, after her efforts at multitasking break down. He suggests she would make a great Patron Saint of Stress. He also highlights the compassionate response of Jesus to Martha, who by saying her name twice, recalls her gently to herself, leading her to self knowledge and then Jesus defends the central importance of the contemplative life.
 In 2007 the World Community of Christian Meditation (WCCM), received canonical recognition from the Vatican as an Ecumenical Contemplative Community, acknowledging the importance of the work of Mary.

 I love this next image by the Renaissance Italian artist Vincenzo Campi.
His depiction is of Martha in the kitchen, in the throes of her tumultous task of preparing an abundance of food. It's hospitality in uber-excess, is meant to impress on a gigantic scale, but the look on Martha's face suggests to me she is completely overwhelmed by it and has lost it. She is running on empty !

Meanwhile Mary and Jesus are minor figures way behind in the upper left background, barely visible behind the hanging dead poultry. They appear as small and insignificant. The contrast between the manic profligacy in the foreground and the spareness of the scene behind, showing the peaceful cameo of Mary and Jesus, for me, is pure genius.

Image source from above and below from here

Maud Sumner artist's modern depiction of Mary and Martha
 with Jesus reflected in the mirror.


Image by Eileen Kennedy and text below both from here

and yes, someone in the comments section has highlighted those awful Birkenstock sandals !
"It's not Martha OR Mary, it's Martha AND Mary. Really. Don't we all have parts that are Martha and parts that are Mary—Martha the vigilant action-taker and Mary the still and dedicated listener?
One and the Other. Mary and Martha, reconciled in the shared act of hospitality. Radical.
Radical hospitality. The beginning of justice."
Seen above: "In the House of Martha and Mary" by Eileen Kennedy.

Image source

 Christ in the House of Mary and Martha by Velasquez

I've spent a while researching this week and there are many excellent reflections from diverse angles. So here's my selection, often challenging, some even controversial !
Click here for this wonderful essay by Dan Clendenin.

Image source
and here's a few of my own ramblings this week....

As I get older I have much to learn from the ability of Mary to keep her attentive focus always on Jesus in the middle of distractions and the overcharged busyness of the world, that often leaves me frazzled and depleted.

 I always used to think that contemplation was something as an addition to life, as an extra luxury. I have changed these past few years. I can see retirement as a gift of grace in the sense that it allows me to be drawn to contemplation more and more.

 I've been thinking this week how both Martha and Mary remind me of the nature of the human heartbeat.

Each single heart beat has a systole and a diastole i.e systole is the active pumping out and diastole the relaxation filling phase. 

Both are equally necessary to a healthy functioning heart.

 Martha represents the systolic phase and Mary the diastolic. For optimum functioning the two phases of the heartbeat need to be co-ordinated. Too rapid a systole and too short a diastole leaves us with a racing heart and we end up breathless. 

Too slow a systole and too long a diastole and we end up sluggish.

Mary's "filling phase" is not something passive in the true sense of the word.
  The filling phase may be relaxed but  is "active" in a paradoxical sense.

So stretching the analogy a little further, I see that if I can learn to focus on the presence of Jesus in contemplation, it's as if I am allowing Him to act as my heart's pacemaker. From His calming centre comes the ideal optimum pace for the two combined phases of the heartbeat

As I was looking at the stained glass image above I was drawn to the difference in colour of the two water jugs. Martha's is white and Mary's is red. 

Could it be that the white signified the systolic action of emptying and red for fullness of the diastolic filling ?

Then I looked again and saw the scarlet cloak worn by Jesus on the right hand side and the thick rope cord hanging from the tree at one end and the other end attached to a brown bucket- maybe this connotes a link to the woman at the well. 

Is the red jar beside Mary a reminder that we are "completely filled and refilled " from the blood of Christ's self emptying on the cross ?

I realise the central indispensable role of work and relaxation in my daily life has to be balanced, and I have always understood why the contemplative, monastic life has been held in high esteem in the Catholic Church, but this Gospel takes me closer to the crucial importance of its function, not just for those who have taken vows but for every single one of us.

"Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.
There is need of only one thing.
Mary has chosen the better part
and it will not be taken from her."

I particularly like this one:
“The feeling of being hurried is not usually the result of living a full life and having no time. It is on the contrary born of a vague fear that we are wasting our life. When we do not do the one thing we ought to do, we have no time for anything else- we are the busiest people in the world.”
Eric Hoffer

  • Catholic Moral theologians examine the gospel in this reflection Click here.

Image source

Now that I'm intrigued by colour and heartbeats (!), I'm seeing this image above in a different light too- as an icon for contemplation- the figures of Mary and Jesus are BOTH white - maybe this is the ideal state of complete self emptying; kenosis and the eternal, the union of male and female, the perfect integration of anima and animus; all centred round the table on which lies the chalice of transubstantiation, transformation and reconciliation. Martha's black needs more reflection, but maybe black represents the dark chaotic shadow side. Nevertheless, she has approached and come close to the other two in this image and in this trinity is a crucible where transformation still awaits the action of the Holy Spirit.

 I don't think my analogy is a perfect one - as it can't be applied to every image, but it was fun playing with it for a while.


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