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When distractions become burdens

First slide

I was recently comparing translations of the story of Martha and Mary, and the choice of the word “burdened” in one version compared to “distracted” in another caught my attention. In the version we hear at Mass, “Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me’ ”(New American Bible Revised Edition). In the version I prefer to use for study at home, “Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me’ ’’ (Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition).

I wonder, was she burdened because she was distracted? When she took her eyes off her reason for serving, did the service become a burden? That is, when she forgot that the whole reason we are here on earth is to know, love and serve the Lord, did that very service become a burden? She was alone in her serving because she excluded Christ, who wants her (and us) to serve alongside him, to be with him.

Sometimes, we distract ourselves from relationships by making ourselves busy. We do things because we are reluctant to just be, maybe because we are afraid to just be. Jesus came to the home of Martha and Mary, hoping to be able to pour into them, to feed them in a manner of speaking. Mary recognized his intent, saw that his purpose was of greater value and more essential to her holiness than all the other aspects of the visit, and made herself vulnerable. She sat at his feet, in a posture of receptivity, and allowed herself to be open to him. Martha, on the other hand, made herself busy. She rebuffed Jesus’ invitation to be fed by him, and she used her perpetual motion of “work” to put up walls. 

Then, the work became a burden.

When Jesus reproached her, he wasn’t telling her not to work, not to pour herself into serving her family and him. He was telling her not to miss the opportunity he was offering her to be filled with him first. He was telling her that if only she would allow herself to be still and silent, if only she would open herself to what he had to offer, he would fill her to overflowing -- and she could serve others from that abundance.

God wants us to serve; there is no doubt about it. But whether we serve by making meals and tying shoes and wiping the noses of four children under five or we serve soup in a hut in a third world country, he wants us to serve with composed cheerfulness. He tells all of us when he tells Martha, “You are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful.”

We are anxious and troubled over many things.

What is the one thing that is needful? To sit at his feet and to let him serve us first.

Jesus wants us to show up and be still. He wants us in the pew, every chance we get. He wants to give himself to us in the Eucharist. He wants us silent before him at adoration. He wants to speak to us in Scripture. And he wants us to listen.

The one thing that is needful is Christ himself.

If we can keep from being distracted, we won’t be burdened. If we can stop bustling about under our own power long enough to drink deeply of his power, then we can go about serving him and others with genuine, recollected joy. 

Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, writes from Connecticut.



© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020

@elizabethfoss