Delaying dinner

In our ongoing quest to know and love the Lord Jesus it can be instructive to meditate on the way He interacts with His friends. We know from the Gospels that Jesus was a somewhat frequent visitor at the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus in Bethany. It is a name that finds a home on retreat houses where people seek respite and peace from the hectic pace of life. Is the name given to retreat houses because that is where Jesus could rest among friends? Is it a good name because we want Him to console us with His presence or because we want to be helped by His friendship with us? Of course, all of these can be true. When we go away to find the Lord we know that He is happy to receive us and to help us rest in Him. When we go away in this way (even if we don't actually go anywhere) it is an opportunity to give Jesus a renewed welcome into our lives. Bethany should be a peaceful place where friends share friendship with the Friend.

The brief passage in this week's Sunday Gospel is one we know well. It is a special glimpse into the way Jesus related with Mary and Martha and into the way they related with Him. It is a glimpse that has much to teach us. There are different artistic representations of this scene in a retreat house called Bethany. In one of them, the agitation on Martha's face is clear as she asks Jesus: Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? In another depiction Jesus is replying to her: 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. In a third version, Martha appears to have set aside her work and is listening to Jesus like Mary had been doing all along. These three artistic depictions are not together in the retreat house. They aren't by the same artist nor in the same medium or style. Taken together, though, they illustrate something very likely, something very real. Jesus transformed the agitation and worry of Martha into an opportunity to bring her into the peaceful appreciation of friendship with Him that Mary had already discovered.

We cannot say that Martha had no appreciation for the friendship and words of Jesus. Neither can we say that Mary was unhelpful around the house. We can see clearly, though, that Jesus wanted both of them to learn about the "one thing necessary." The wisdom learned at His feet by hanging on His every word is the wisdom to know that nothing matters more than being united to Him in the deepest friendship possible, the friendship of the Savior with the very sheep He came to save. When that friendship is established in an individual soul, everything else makes sense and finds the context of eternity - a context which makes it easy to prioritize and weigh every other thing. A fruitful meditation might be to pray about the moment when Mary and Martha, together, peacefully listened to Jesus - without anxiety and without worry. Can we know that kind of friendship with Him?

Jesus never told Martha that the work she was doing didn't matter. It is likely that the meal she prepared was an important part of His visit there that day. Given the interaction between these friends, it seems likely that the meal was prepared and finished later and more calmly. Did Jesus help with that work? He might play a greater part in the things that make us anxious and worried if we can manage to prioritize friendship with Him long enough to sit at His feet. Retreat houses tend to have good cookies and sometimes good bread. At Bethany the food that mattered was every word that came forth from Jesus' mouth. No doubt He had beautiful things to say at dinner, a dinner prepared by peaceful-hearted sisters working together with Him.

Fr. Zuberbueler is pastor of St. Louis Church in Alexandria.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016