I recall reading once about a sculptor, Michelangelo I think, who said he didn’t so much form the block of marble into the shape he envisioned as removed unnecessary stone and revealed the inner object that was hidden all along. So too it is with God, the potter – He keeps working with our clay until we cooperate and find the inner beauty that He always saw there but that we are so often too blind to see. God helps us reveal to the world the inner perfection, the beautiful work of art, that is each of us. Like Jeremiah’s potter, God does not quit, even when we do.
The Gospel alternatives present two sides of Martha’s personality, with two different reflection points. In John, Martha’s faith is tested by her brother’s death. She is convinced that Lazarus would still live if Jesus had arrived sooner, and she professes her belief that He is the messiah. Shortly after this Jesus raises Lazarus.
But a more helpful message, for me, is the combination of Martha running out to meet Jesus while Mary stayed at home, and the account from Luke in which Martha complained that she was doing all the work while Mary sat at the feet of Jesus. Martha was the good host, the one who made sure her guests were accommodated and their needs met. Martha was concerned with the immediate needs of the body, the comfort of the living, and the service of those in need. Mary, on the other hand, was content with enjoying their guest, being with this person who graced their home. Jesus chastens Martha and says that she should emulate her sister Mary, who was sitting at His feet, enjoying her guest more than worrying about the details of being a host.
At times I find myself acting like Martha, not Mary. I enjoy having people to our home and providing them with a relaxing social gathering. But I also find I am being a worker, almost detached from the party, more concerned about making sure the food is cooked and the drinks refreshed than taking the time to visit and interact with the people who have come to our home.
I think what Jesus was reminding Martha is that we should not only desire to serve God (through our guests), but that we need to enjoy the presence of God (our guests) in our lives. Mary found God in the physical person of Jesus, but that is not an option for us. We find the presence of God in our lives in a myriad of ways. For some it might be a sunrise or a quiet evening by a brook or a pond. For others it might be the panoramic view from the top of a mountain or hill overlooking a valley. For others it might be the laugh of a newborn who is discovering the world around her. And others find God in helping a homeless man find a little comfort on a hot (or cold) night, in protecting a battered mother as she escapes to safety with her children, in providing some limited relief for the many suffering people in Haiti, or so many other challenging places in our world.
Martha was doing great good, but she was distracted by her doing from feeling God’s presence. I think we should not only do the good works that Jesus calls us to do, but also we should be aware of God in the doing. The person we are serving is the presence of God in our lives. If we can reflect on and feel God in the doing, we blend the best of the Martha and the Mary sides of the gospel story.
And so my prayer today is to keep giving God the chance to reveal my inner beauty by giving the potter good clay to work, and to be aware of the Mary moments in the Martha actions of my life.
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