16th Sunday of the Year

Martha and Mary

It is interesting to note how brothers and sisters in a family can be similar in appearance and be readily identifiable from their parents; yet how they differ! People might express surprise when they find out you are a brother or sister to someone they know well, and suddenly make the connection with you. They might say ‘you are not a bit alike’!

It is interesting to note how personalities and tastes and temperaments differ under the same roof. How some people can be described as ‘explorers’ (adventurous, wanting to socialize at parties, see the world) and those who are ‘settlers’ (I’d rather stay at home, order a take-out, watch a movie on TV). [They usually marry each other!]

Comparisons are odious. We hate the phrase as we grow up: ‘why can’t you be more like your brother/sister?’ At school, if you had an older brother or sister, teachers may, intentionally or not, compare you (usually unfairly) with an older sibling, and expect you to measure up to their abilities or achievements. You are not seen for who you are as a unique individual with your own quirks. You may feel constricted, in a strait-jacket by this measure.

All our lives we will be compared one way or the other. We have to accept that and work on our own uniqueness! One of my favourite books is ‘The temperament God gave you’ and you learn to accept certain things about yourself and other’s points of view or alternative ways of seeing things and acting. People will have to accept us too!

Martha and Mary are presented to us as different contrasting personalities. Martha is the active, about -the-house type, expresses her opinions readily, complains, sees all that there has to be done and stresses about it. Mary is silent, recollected, seemingly passive, a listener. Martha complains that Mary should be helping. Jesus rather, praises Mary for getting her priorities right, for ‘choosing the better part’. Martha, it seems, had lost sight of the bigger picture. She focused more on the WHAT of life than the WHY. Martha had lists of things to be done and would mentally cross them off, Mary had one thing on her mind: ‘today the Lord and Master is coming to visit; I will listen and learn and keep Him company’. Whereas Martha was concerned about short-term soon-to-forgotten priorities and jobs to fill her day, Mary achieved more because she has her eternal end in sight and acted on that perspective.

I have always had one difficulty with this story though. It seems unfair! Martha was trying to do her best after all! I remember growing up that if guests came to visit, that we would all be expected to help out in the kitchen to get things ready or set the table or clean around the house. We would be quickly reminded to help out and to do our share of the work if we were seen to be slacking.

Maybe the problem though is that Martha did not know when to stop. The unique opportunity of having Jesus as her guest was lost sight of. She kept on working and would lose the meaning of the present moment. How often we lose sight of what we are doing at a given moment because we are too focused on ‘what’s next’? We need more recollection and repose, like Mary, who chose the better part’.

We need more interior life.


  1. Thank you, Father, for the positive comments about our book! I sympathize with Martha! She must have been choleric. Remember how she marched up to Jesus after Lazarus died and wagged her finger at Him: Lord, if only you had been here! (Why didn't Jesus DO something, already?!!) And, it's true, cholerics have a tendency to activism!! Anyway, I appreciate the mention, and I hope you will have a chance to read our second book, The Temperament God Gave Your Spouse.

  2. Thanks Laraine for dropping by. Your book is GREAT! Say hi to your pastor for me
    Fr John