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Martha and Mary

Tomorrows Gospel, the episode of Martha and Mary, was taken as early as Gregory the Great to symbolize the active and the contemplative lives, and the superiority of the latter to the former, since Mary chose "the better part." It would even be taken to indicate the relative importance of active and contemplative religious communities and orders. Such interpretations, Joseph Fitzmyer says in his commentary, serve "to allegorize it beyond recognition and to introduce a distinction that was born only of later preoccupation."Here is his interpretation:

The episode makes listening to the word the one thing needed. In a way it repeats the Lucan message of 8:15, 21. Priority is given to the hearing of the word coming from Gods messenger over preoccupation with all other concerns. Martha wanted to honor Jesus with an elaborate meal, but Jesus reminds her that it is more important to listen to what he has to say. The proper service of Jesus is attention to his instruction, not an elaborate provision for his physical needs...On the heels of the good Samaritan episode, this one emphasizes the listening to the word of Jesus, something that goes beyond love of ones neighbor. Marthas service is not repudiated by him, but he stresses that its elaborate thrust may be misplaced. A diakonia that bypasses the word is one that will never have lasting character; whereas listening to Jesus word is the lasting good that will not be taken away from the listener. (Fitzmyer, Luke, 892).

I find this interpretation somewhat anticipated in Augustines reflections on the episode. He points out that we are not to read it as a criticism of Marthas service. If we took it in this sense, "then people ought to stop ministering to the needy; they ought to choose "the better part," which will not be taken from them; they ought to devote themselves to the word, be eager for the pleasant teaching; occupy themselves with the knowledge that saves; not care whether there is a stranger in town or whether someone needs bread or clothing, someone needs to be visited, or to be bought back or to be buried. Stop doing the works of mercy and give yourself to knowledge alone."Well, then, what is the meaning of Jesus concluding remark? Augustine thought that the clue lay in the observation that Marys "better part" would not be taken away from her, that is, her part was better precisely because it would never be taken away. The two women stand for two lives, the life of this age and the life of the age to come. This life is full of troubles and difficulties, fears and temptations, and to meet them Martha gets to work. But in the next age there will be no need of Marthas kind of life because there will be no hunger or thirst or nakedness or illness. But Marys activity of listening to the words of Truth himself will continue in the next life, when instead of the crumbs that she and we can gather now we and she will be feasting at the full table of the Lord. "We now are where Martha was; we hope for what Mary was. Let us do well what Martha did so that we can have fully what Mary had."Augustine even compared what he was doing as he preached to what Martha was doing for Jesus and what his people were doing as they listened to what Mary was doing. He was trying to feed them with a word of Christ, whereas they had left behind their worldly cares and household chores in order to listen to Christ. Augustine tried to draw them in: If Christ gives him something true to say, and they recognize it, they show their delight in it. What kind of delight? Not the sort evoked by something pleasing to the senses, by bodily beauty or motion, but delight in the truth, in understanding, in wisdom. And he concluded: " If delight in the truth is so pleasant now, how much more pleasant will it be then. Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her."Two centuries later Gregory the Great saw the episode as illustrating the difference between the active and the contemplative life, but he didnt institutionalize the allegorical interpretation. The two lives, he said, were united in Christ who worked miracles in the city and also spent nights in prayer on the mountain. He thus provided an example, teaching us not, out of love of contemplation, to neglect the care of our neighbors, nor again so to engage in care of our neighbors that we abandon contemplative pursuits; but to keep the two together in our minds so that the love of our neighbor does not interfere with the love of God and the love of God, transcendent as it is, does not cast out the love of our neighbors."Here are two paintings of the scene, both of which clearly make Martha the more important sister in the episode. The first is by Velazquez, the second by Vincenzo Campi.Martha and Mary 3 Velazquez 1Martha and Mary 2 Vincenzo Campi

About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.



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Campi's picture (and St. Martha herself) remind me of "Babette's Feast." "But in the next age there will be no need of Marthas kind of life because there will be no hunger or thirst or nakedness or illness." True. But while Mary sits feasting happily at the Table, perhaps St. Martha is no less joyfully employed, still looking out for us here below, if her novena prayer is any indication."St. Martha, I resort to thy aid and protection. As proof of my affection and faith, I offer thee this light. Comfort me in all my difficulties and through the great favors thou didst enjoy when the Saviour was lodged in thy house, intercede for my family, that we be provided for in our necessities. I ask of thee, St. Martha, to overcome all difficulties as thou didst overcome the dragon which thou hadst at thy feet. Amen."

For those who love to cook, there can be no question of the better part!

Martha seems to have a feast in the Catholic Church, but what about Mary? I thought they cleared up the confusion with Mary Magdalene a while back. I guess she doesn't have an order of nuns to push her cause, but you'd think she would be important enough to rate a feast day of her own. perhaps someone here would know more about this?

I heard this Gospel this evening at a parish named for St. Gregory the Great.But earlier in the week, I heard Fr. Felix Just point out that the word translated "better" is agathos which is usually rendered "good" (as in the KJV). Significant? He thought so, but I don't know.

Teresa: Yes, the word is the positive of the adjective for "good"; but Fr. Fitzmyer writes: "The positive degree of the adjective is often used in Hellenistic Greek for either the superlative or comparative, both of which were on the wane." And if we translated it simply as "Mary chose the good part, which will not be taken from her," it might imply that what Martha was doing was not good. Augustine: Both were good, but one was better.

On the grammatical point Fitzmyer actually translates "best" as does the Douai version which follows the Vulgate (optimam partem). The NAB and NRSV have "better", As far as I can see from Bauer's Lexicon (3rd ed) the adjective is question nowhere else in the NT has a comparative force. Am I correct in assuming that Augustine's Latin version has "meliorem partem". Certainly if there are two "parts" being compared, standard English usage requires "better" whatever the Greek has.

A final note. There is a comparative meaning "better" kreisson in the NT but it is confined to the authors of epistles.

Susan, the Church of England remembers "Mary, Martha and Lazarus, Companions of our Lord" on July 29, correcting the absence of a day to remember Mary. The Greek Orthodox Church in America remembers the two sisters on June 4, their brother on the day before Palm Sunday.I have seen nothing similar in the Roman Catholic Church, perhaps because the modern distinctions are largely negative, ie "we cannot say M Magdalene is the same as M, Martha's sister" is not the same as "M Magdalene is not the same person as Martha's sister." It should also be noted that St Martha's day is the octave of St Mary Magdalene, probably a significant connector in RC liturgy.The whole thing gets even more weird if we throw in the unnamed woman in Mk 14 and Mt 26, who is also part of this complex of stories said to be about Mary Magdalene. Shouldn't we commemorate the one of whom Jesus said "wherever the gospel is proclaimed to the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her."?

If Wikipedia is to be believed, and I usually take everything there with a grain of salt, Protestants and the Orthodox (and Eastern Rite Catholics, according to this reference source) recognize both Martha and Mary as saints, and they regard Mary as distinct from Mary Magdalene. The RCC, however, consider Mary and Mary Magdalene one and the same, and it is Mary as Mary Magdalene who has a feast day. I'm sure someone who blogs here can clear this up. In the meantime, there is at least one (and probably more) RCC church with the name "Saints Martha and Mary":

Zerwick's very useful "Analysis Philologica" notes that "agathos" when used to refer to one of two things means "better," and when to more than two things it means "best." If you divide a candy bar for two children, one may complain: "He got the big part," meaning "bigger"; do it among three, and the same complaint will mean "biggest." Between Martha and Mary, if the latter got the good part, she got the better part. Augustine has "meliorem." Both were good, he said; one was better.

William C: I was surprised to learn that Catholics once believed Mary, sister of Martha, and Mary Magdalene were the same woman and rather recently distinguished between them. The RCIA Ladies informed me of this as if it were big news.However, in the Episcopal Kalendar in the BCP they've always been two different people; St. Mary Magdalene's FD is July 22, a major feast day. Mary and St. Martha of Bethany are listed together on July 29, but theirs is not a major FD (what the Episcopalians would call a "commemoration" for individuals who may or may not have been canonized in the RCC. Lazarus is not mentioned.(Interesting aside, William Wilberforce's commemoration is listed on July 30; I'm pretty sure he's not a saint in the RCC, though there is not too bad movie about his life and effort to repeal slavery laws in England.)

The East generally has distinguished Martha's sister from Mary Magdalene, though both are generally included among the Myrrhbearers.I am not sure what needs to be cleared up at this point. Does it help to distinguish among the various subjects, ie the factual subject that 'really happened'; the historical subject that is told of in history; and the conversational subject, based on the prior subjects. Apart from a special revelation, we have access only to the historical and conversational Mary Magdalens. Historical methods generally limit us to the few mentions of these women in the Gospels (including NT aprocrypha adds little to the discussion among the various subjects). From these we can not tell if the factual Mary Magdalene had a sister named Martha, if she was a hairdresser, prostitute, a Queen, or Jesus' wife, mother, sister, friend or acquaintance. Maybe she was. Maybe she wasn't.On the conversational level, people have made their own choices in identifying the historic characters with one another. In the East, MM and Martha's sister generally were distinguished (when needed). In the West, they generally were identified. Using historical methods, we cannot tell which of these reflects the factual subjects behind the history.And there is always the possibility of special revelation. I have a photo that claims to be Mary Magdalene marrying Jesus in 1955, I think in California; she may have told someone something then.

This morning the Legion of Christ priest at one church we attend spoke of Mary of Bethany as the woman who washed Jesus' feet with her tears. We tried to set him straight after mass, but he was having none of it.

Magdalene is word like Nazarene or Gadarene that indicates place of origin and so a Magdalene in the feminine form would mean woman from Magdala. I think it is now generally accepted that the place in question was in the region of Galilee, more particularly on the shore of the Sea of Galilee north of Tiberias. In fact Mary Magdalene is listed with other women who accompanied Jesus in Galilee (Luke 8:2-3). In contrast Mary the sister of Martha is shown to live with her family in Bethany which is near Jerusalem and far from Galilee. I suggest that it would be very odd indeed if Mary of Bethany was also known as, much less was, Mary from Magdala, It is not really a question of choice if one inspects the evidence.

Our sermon this morning said, Both/And; sounds Catholic.

I found the joining of the reading from Genesis about Abraham and the Gospel story of Martha and Mary quite interesting. God and two messengers drop in on Abraham, giving him the opportunity to receive them, and what they have to offer, well. He does so and is blessed with the promise of a child. Jesus drops in on Martha and Mary. What's important is that they receive what He has to offer. That's the lesson that Martha needs to learn. In his own way, Paul was saying something like that to the Colossians.Really good stuff!

"Our sermon this morning said, Both/And; sounds Catholic."Margaret, Margaret are you suggesting that Catholics are characteristically muddled?

Rather than Martha "getting it wrong" like all the rest of us because she is distracted with the world (the tack Father always takes with this story), I wonder if we could look at the story as Christ's invitation to women to be participants in his mission.Martha is a good and kind Jewish woman, hospitable to strangers and travellers, faithful to the demands of hospitality. According to her lights, Mary is being rude and impious.When I hear Jesus say, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things," I imagine him getting up to take a turn at bringing in the food or wiping the dishes as he continues to teach, giving Martha a chance to sit down and listen. Yeah, I know it probably didn't happen that way, but that's how I take the spirit of the story.

I'm interested in what the commentators here might think of Meister Eckhart's quirky and insightful reversal of the traditional interpretation: he privileges Martha's position over Mary's. Here's Bernard McGinn's summary of Eckhart's sermon:"Tradition had identified Martha, 'busy about many things,' with the active life, and Mary who sought the 'one thing necessary' with the higher contemplative life, but Eckhart reverses this, at least in this text [German Sermon 86]. As long as we find ourselves in this life, Martha's way is to be preferred to Mary, who is advised to get up and 'learn life.' Martha is the type of the soul who in the summit of the mind or depth of ground remains unchangeably united to God, but who continues to occupy herself with good works inthe world that help her neighbor and also form her total being closer and closer to the divine image. Martha, then, is the soul that is both a virgin and a fruitful wife [the subject of Eckhart's meditation in Sermon 2], free and detached, and yet by that very reason able to work 'without a why'" (Meister Eckhart [Paulist, 1981], 60).Sermon 86 can be found in the second Eckhart volume (Paulist, 1986), 338-45.

Augustine and Gregory had the Catholic both-and today, and so did the preacher at S. John's in Goshen.

A. Godzieba, more evidence that Meister Eckhart was paying attention to the beguines, who might very well have looked at St. Martha this way.

I preached in the text as one about hospitality (which seemed particularly relevant in our parish, since we have recently welcomed a new pastor).

That should be, "I preached on the text. . ."

Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John. p. 452:In the popular mind, under the influence of the Lucan picture of a sinful woman, the Woman of Bethany (Mary, according to John) was soon characterized as a sinner. Then, for good measure, this sinful Mary of Bethany was identified with Mary of Magdala from whom seven devils had been cast out (Luke viii 2)and who went to the tomb of Jesus. And so, for instance, the Catholic liturgy came to honor in a single feast all three women (the sinner of Galilee, Mary of Bethany, Mary of Magdala) as one saint--a confusion that has existed in the Western Church, although not without demur, since the time of Gregory the Great.

Three more interpretations:Mary, precisely because she refuses to be distracted by any mundane activity like preparing a meal, precisely because she chooses instead to sit (like a good disciple) at the feet of Jesus, listening to his word, is praised for having chosen the one necessary portion. Like Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary the sister of Martha represents for Luke one of the ideals of discipleship: listening to and treasuring the word of God (John Meier).Mary is defended, not praised to the disparagement of Martha: it is meat and drink to Jesus to have an appreciative audience, and Mary is not to be deprived of the one thing she can do well....Martha, then, is the central figure; she is the hostess.... She is full of good works and entirely free from the selfishness that seeks its own pleasurea fault which she thinks she detects in Mary. But she earns a gentle reproof from Jesus because she has not yet learned that unselfishness, service and even sacrifice can be spoiled by self-concern and self-pity, that good works which are not self-forgetful can become a misery to the doer and a tyranny to others (G.B. Caird).Without this [the insights of social anthropologists]... the conversation between Mary, Martha and Jesus becomes simply a matter of Mary being a more spiritual, and Martha a more practical, sort of person. The passage...has thus been the subject of millions of homilies on the priority of prayer over housework. But as soon as we get inside the culture of a first-century Palestinian village, a much more subversive note is struck. Mary has refused to be confined to the womens quarters: Jesus remark to Martha servex to vindicare Marys exceptional presence in space not expected of her; the story consciously upsets the native perception of how things ought to be (N.T. Wright, citing Malina and Neyrey).

Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke. p. 688, Note on Luke 7:37:In the Western Church traditions, at least since the time of Gregory the Great, Mary of Bethany has been conflated with the sinner of Galilee, and even with Mary Magdalene, "out of whom seven demons had come" ([Luke] 8:2). There is, however, no basis for this conflation in the NT itself, and no evidence whatsoever that the "possession" of Mary Magdalene was the result of personal sinfulness. The Greek Church tradition, by and large, kept these Marys distinct.

Both/And--muddled??? Surely not! Inclusive.

Deacon Bauerschmidt--A very nice sermon. A good insight that the extension of hospitality, or the withholding of it, could be a matter of life or death in Christ's time. I'd never thought about that before.

The Italian rendition of the menu at Casa Sara gives "focacce" for "rolls" and "panna" for "curds." Sounds a good deal more hospitable to me!

MargaretPerhaps I have misunderstood. What did you mean by "Both/And"?

I was quoting the sermon, I heard this morning. Fr. D. declared that we need both action and contemplation; both Martha and Mary. His point I take it was that we don't have to choose one or the other. We can have and do both. He also declared Martha a Type A as can be seen when she berates Jesus in John??? for not being in Bethany when her brother Lazarus dies, that is, she took direct action! And where was Mary? Mooning about [that's me not Fr. D].

Mr. Gannon - I don't have it at my finger tips but traditionally/historically the best of catholic practice,theology, and understanding of issues captures nuances and articulates an interpretation that can best be described as "both/and" rather than "either/or". Others on this thread are much more capable of sharing examples from our communal history that would show this:- example - we interpret scrpture contextually not literally - thus, we would see miracles as both mystery and the action of Jesus. Rather than an evangelical interpretation that would literally explain the miracle- example - ecclesiology - church is both a community and an institution; or insert the models of church. It is an effort to capture or articulate the valid points of both ideas rather than making things black and white.- example....Church with a capital "C" and church with a little "c" and the explanations that go along with thisSorry for my inarticulateness and not trying to step on Ms. Steinfels toes.Deacon - we also heard about hospitality - our pastor's last day is today.

Margaret I did misunderstand. I thought you meant that the homilist said that Mary of Magdala and Mary of Bethany were the same person. As it it turns out, I quite agree with you and Fr. D. Thanks for your patience in replying.

Martha, er, Margaret--For me (and I suspect for you) this is one of those central stories in the Gospels--partly because it involves "women's work," the kind of work many of us saw right in our grandmothers' and mothers' kitchens. Maybe even our own if our jobs are exhausting us.It doesn't involve just feeding bellies, but requires a certain amount of "fuss" with choosing higher end food and putting out the good dishes. It's the kind of effort that greases goodwill and what Raber calls gemutlichkeit among family and neighbors. Jesus can't--just can't--be denigrating that work, or saying it's OK, but Mary's is better. It just doesn't make sense in the context of the rest of the Gospels.Many thanks to all contributors. One of the reasons I often feel more uplifted reading C'weal than in listening to another sermon in the local parish. Sorry, can't get over that old Protestant hankering for a good sermon. Breaking of the Word is as important as the breaking of the Bread, however much Catholics emphasize the eucharist. How can the Bread nourish without first understand what the Baker put into it?

Jesus begins by saying to Mary, "You are anxious . . ." What is she anxious about? They both already know she is irritated if not mad at her sister, so what is Jesus adding by telling her she's anxious? Is there something else going on here that she's anxious about? Is He commiserating about that too? It seems to me the whole story here isn't on the surface. Or maybe that word "anxious" threw me off.

Unfortunately this was "Mission Cooperation Sunday" in our Archdiocese so rather than our pastor's interpretation of the M&M story, we had a Sicilian-American Spiritan priest do the pitch. He was excellent with the right amount of story-telling with a modicum of humor, so it was OK --- I guess.

Oops -- should have been "by saying to Martha"

Michelangelo chose Rachel and Leah to symbolize the contemplative and active lives. Here one looks up, the other down. interesting Jewish view of the two sisters suggests a both/and founded on mutual admiration and vigorous competition rather than a union based upon a truce between two adversaries: On a homiletical level, the classic Chassidic texts explain the sisters' rivalry as more than marital jealousy. Each woman desired to grow spiritually in her avodat Hashem (service of God), and therefore sought closeness to the tzadik (Jacob) who is God's personal emissary in this world. By marrying Jacob and bearing his sons ... they would develop an even closer relationship to God...Each woman also continually questioned whether she was doing enough in her personal efforts toward increased spirituality, and would use the other's example to spur herself on.

Jean: I couldn't agree with you more about the breaking of the two Breads--the Word and the Eucharist. That's what John 6 is all about: Jesus is the Bread of Life by his teaching in most of the discourse, the Bread of Life that is the eucharist comes in at the end. These are two ways in which we eat the Bread of Life.I did like Augustine's comparing his congregation to Mary, which puts him in the position of Martha. He also spoke of Martha's receiving Christ in order to feed him, and of his being ready to feed her with his word.

So all's well that ends well???? I just finished cooking dinner: broiled butterflied leg of lamb, tomatoes stuffed with stuff, green beans, and peach crisp..... the logistics! the planning! the imagining! the anticipation! the meditation! Stove off. AC on. Guests arriving in 20 minutes. I fall to my knees! But first, I think I'll take a shower.

F.Y.I. Martha and Mary:

Fr. Komonchak quotes G. B. Caird above. Caird goes on to say:

The idealizing of Mary set in so early that it has even left its mark on the text of vv. 41-42, where there are no less than five variant readings . . . . All reference to the one or few things needful should be omitted, on the evidence of the Western text, as an early gloss. There is then no comparison between the two sisters; Mary is defended, not praised to the disparagement of Martha; it is meat and drink to Jesus to have an appreciative audience, and Mary is not to be deprived of the one thing she can do well.

Of course, one might accuse Caird of just throwing out a difficult line instead of trying to interpret it. But I think he makes a good case. Jesus is, after all, a guest in the house of Martha and Mary. If you have a guest in your house, it may be flattering to hang on his every word, but entertaining guests (as Margaret Steinfels can attest to!) is about more than inviting them and listening to them. They have physical needs, and a good host cannot ignore them. It seems to me that what Martha deserves the reproof for is trying to get Jesus to side with her against Mary, or for trying to imply she is right and Mary is wrong. If Jesus really did take Martha's side against Mary, Martha might have been justified in responding, "Okay, fair enough. But don't either of you expect dinner." :-)In flipping through commentaries, it seemed to me there is currently more interest in the social conventions Jesus and his women followers were breaking than about the point of the remark that Caird wants to throw out altogether.

Mary did not object to Martha while Martha objected to Mary. People usually read their prejudices into any story. Yet we know both are important. To leave any out is reprehensible. Whichever one is inclined to believe is better, there is no question that to denigrate the other or to say that it is not necessary is wrong. Choosing one over the other is extremist and a source of division.

Interpreting the Mary/Martha story is complicated by the two versions we have, this one from Luke and the Mary/Martha/Lazarus siblings in John. Are these the same Mary/Martha? In John Mary is from Bethany, she falls at the feet weeping (11:32) and later anoints those feet.(John 12:3) In Luke, she offers no gesture beyond listening, and is in a village at the beginning of the journey to Jerusalem, not the end. (Bethany is adjacent to Jerusalem, so at the end of the journey?)These sorts of differences complicate the search for the historical Mary. And her name makes it even more complicated, since it is the name of other women in the Gospels.

Luke's story of Mary and Martha is illuminated by two other incidents that Luke describes, the cure of Simon's mother-in-law and the appointment of the Seven in Acts.Simon's unnamed mother-in-law is sick in bed, when Jesus comes in, casts put a demon, and "she got up immediately and waited on them." She is instantly cast into the Martha role! Is this a miraculous healing or impertinent and demanding?Chrysostom, I think, observed that the contrast between Mary and Martha reappears in Acts 6, when the Twelve decide "It is not right for us to neglect the Word of God in order to wait on table." Both ministries were needed in the Church, though the Seven seem to spend more time on the Word of God than with the waiting on table.

One more thing. Meister Eckhart was a Dominican, an order of preachers in a world that believed preaching was reserved to bishops. The Dominicans and Franciscans offered a new model for religious life, that did not match the conventional view of clergy and religious apart from the world like Mary while the laity were busy about many things like Martha. The new orders offered a different model, contemplation in order to serve. (contemplata aliis tradere) This new model does fit into the Mary/Martha duality.This was at the time of the beginning of the Beguines, and the Church's both/and efforts to incorporate and alienate them.

Jim McK: N.T. Wright also makes an allusive reference to Acts 6, but he doesn't mention Chrysostom.

"This new model does fit into the Mary/Martha duality."True, it fits into the "both/and" model, which is what the beguines seemed able to capture out of economic necessity to make a living in the world--the convents wouldn't take them; there was limited space there, and getting in cost a fair amount of cha-ching--and live according to the teachings of the Lord.

Jean: Perhaps since this is my thread, I can be silly. It's a pleasant thought that your Beguines had something to do with one of the greatest songs from the Swing Era, "Begin the Beguine"--imagine them imitating Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers or swaying to Artie Shaw's version--but alas, it seems that there is no connection....

My only request would be, for weekends on which I am assigned to preach, Fr. Komonchak begin these threads a week earlier, so I can 'borrow" liberally from all of these wonderful ideas.FWIW - I'm a cradle Catholic, but I've never heard of Mary Magdalene being thought to be Martha's sister.

Thanks, Jim, for the kind words. In case anyone's interested, I've started my own blog where I hope to post homilies, talks, articles, etc., eventually a lot of stuff on my computer that it would seem is never going to appear in print.

Father, this is great news.

I love the hospitality angle--and I agree that such involves a measure of "fuss" over one's guests. One homily I heard on this text said that, at a minimum, one doesn't draw one's guests into family fights, or imply that a guest should scold a host by siding with another host.

In my 70 years of (mostly) listening to Catholic homilies and reading Catholic texts, this is the first time that I have head that Mary of Magdela was the sister of Martha the sister of Lazarus. Is that a long-time position of some within the church?

Jimmy,It rarely comes up in homilies because the principal texts very rarely appear in the Lectionary. Mary Magdalene appears when Christ is crucified, when he is buried, and when it is discovered that he had been raised; how often are her family relationships deemed more important than those events? Mark's story of a woman anointing Jesus appears only on Palm Sunday every third year, as the beginning of the Passion, while Matthew's is never in the lectionary. John's very similar version is read on Monday of Holy Week, with little notice of its differences from from Mk and Mt, eg the woman is named Mary, her sister is named Martha and her brother Lazarus has just been raised from the dead. That leaves Luke's two stories, of Mary and Martha and of the sinful woman anointing, as the only opportunities for exploring these identity issues. I suppose we could say that since her story is so closely tied to the Gospel, the Gospel often seems like the best topic-- the death of Jesus, his Passion and burial, and his resurrection.Outside the liturgy, the identification of MM with Martha's sister is pretty firmly entrenched. Gregory the Great affirms that all of these stories refer to one person, confirming a tradition rather than creating it. The 13th Century Golden Legend describes M Magdalene, her sister Martha, brother Lazarus, and daughter Sarah journeying to the South of France. This is the normal pattern when MM's history and family are considered. (In the WEST; very different in the EAST))

"One homily I heard on this text said that, at a minimum, one doesnt draw ones guests into family fights, or imply that a guest should scold a host by siding with another host."Well, yah, true. But if Mary had gotten off her fanny to help Martha, they could have gotten the job done quicker, and both could have received the benefit of our Lord's instruction. Plus, I like Martha's chutzpah. My grandmother never took any guff and seeing somebody else get beaten down just infuriated her. She used to rattle off a regular litany of stuff that she didn't think was fair, and she said if she made it to heaven, she was going to ask Jesus Christ Almighty about it. At the funeral home, one of my cousins said Jesus was probably heading for whatever passes for the celestial Man Cave and instructing the angels, "Don't tell Lucile I'm in here!" I love the idea of the beguines getting to dance to Artie Shaw in heaven (and I hope Gramma got to meet her heartthrob Erroll Flynn, though something tells me he might still be working off a lot of stuff in Purgatory ...). Anyway this fictional riposte from a beguine defending the active life to a male theology scholar shows they would have loved Artie!You talk, we act. You learn, we seize. You inspect, we choose. You chew, we swallow. You bargain, we buy. You glow, we take fire. You assume, we know. You ask, we take. You search, we find. You love, we languish. You languish, we die. You sow, we reap You work, we rest. You grow thin, we grow fat. You ring, we sing. You sing, we dance. You dance, we jump. You blossom, we bear fruit. You taste, we savor.

Jean: And then think of all those who have recorded it, especially Ella and Tony Martin and Jo Stafford.

Familiar tension. Evokes scenes of being torn between the desire to listen to a guest whose thoughts I really want to hear, and the calls of kitchen duty as a hostess. (Can now be solved by ordering take-out food...)Reminds me of a meal during which my sister spent her entire time in and out of the kitchen while I mostly sat with our visitors. I thought she was overly fussy and suspect they felt that they were imposing on her because of that. I wanted to tell her to relax, take it easy, and enjoy the presence of our guests. She probably resented the rarity of my kitchen trips. Now I feel vindicated!

Claire: maybe your sister thought you were acting like a guest in your own home?

Jimmy: probably. To redeem myself in your mind, let me hasten to mention that I "Martha'ed" this past Sunday: i.e. I missed Mass because I spent most of the weekend doing necessary things for others!

Ah, Jo Stafford. I wonder what happened to Dad's record of her doing "Temptation" that he used to play at neighborhood parties. Bunches of us kids would play it in the basement and take turns pantomiming to it, pretending to be hillbillies. My brother was the best; he blacked out his front teeth with Black Jack gum and put on my mom's house dress. I think she also did Darlene and Johnathan with another musician. She was pretty funny. And, yes, a great singer when she played it straight.None of this has anything to do with Ss. Mary and Martha. Sorry. Just tripping down fond memory lane.

It's better to be prepared ahead of time in order that you are ready to receive Him.

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