Greetings, SBT Readers!
This week, the world has been distracted from the usual horrors by amazing images from the James Webb telescope. These astral images have mesmerized viewers with their clarity and beauty, revealing hidden aspects of the universe -- cradles where stars are born, scintillating galaxies, a dying star, Earth-like planets that could harbor life... With its incredible infrared capabilities, the world's most powerful telescope has captured images from 13.1 billion years ago, close to the very time when the universe was forming.
To look up and behold the stars is humbling. Our own problems and preoccupations suddenly seem so petty and so insignificant compared to the vastness that lies light years away.
At the same time, if we gaze long enough, we gain insight into what it means to be human. Of course, many of us are familiar with the concept that we are made of star dust but recent studies actually prove that this is true, that we are made from the dust from old super novas. In other words, to gaze at the stars is to behold our humanity in all its wonder and mystery. The universe above mirrors the universe within each of us, in all its magnificence and glory. Seeing who we truly are breaks down dichotomies, differentiation, alienation. We ARE the human race, expansive like the universe, capable of dying and rising like the stars, called into celestial harmony by the One who fixes the number of the stars and knows each star by name
Jesus entered a village where a woman named Martha welcomed him. She had a sister, Mary, who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do the serving by myself? Tell her to help me."
The Lord replied, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of one thing only. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her."
Go into any Mediterranean house and you will find yourself plied with food, drink and constant refills; if you happen to be an expected guest-- or an honored guest-- the attention you receive will be unceasing. Hospitality, you see, is not just an ancient tradition but a way of life embedded in each culture. No matter your social standing or income level, you share what you have -- killing the "fatted calf," so to speak. When Jesus shows up in Bethany, his arrival, then, brings both honor and obligation -- someone has to feed him and his entourage! Of course, there are none of the modern day conveniences-- no pre-packaged food, freezer items, or even bottled drinks. Instead, everything has to be made from scratch, most likely with some ingredients begged or bartered from neighbors; moreover, unless there happens to be a private back yard well, someone is going to have to trek to the communal village well to haul home water. From our Gospel text, we learn that Mary abandons her societal role as a woman to sit at Jesus' feet -- in other words, to take the position of a disciple, along with the men. In so doing, she not only violates convention but leaves her sister in the lurch.
I have always loved the image of Mary the Contemplative. Women so often sacrifice their deepest needs to care of others, but Mary refuses to do this. She hungers to hear the Word and to be in the presence of her Lord. Pots, pans, kneading dough and plucking feathers off slaughtered chickens are not on her agenda. Instead, she filters out both the noises from the kitchen and her sister's complaints. Rapt in mystery, wrapped in love, she honors the needs of her soul.
But isn't this what Martha wants, too? Isn't this what all of us want? Martha could also abandon her kitchen duties and sit at Jesus' feet but then everyone present would go hungry. While Mary attends to her soul needs, Martha attends to everyone's bodily needs. Her resentment and disappointment are understandable, and Jesus' rebuke most likely stings her to the core.
The demands of modern life turn many "Marys" into "Marthas."
Those who yearn to be "Mary" often find themselves with unexpected responsibilities that consume their time, their energy, their financial resources, their health. Caregiving, for example, can be a 24/7 proposition; administrative responsibilities can consume us; projects can expand and proliferate in unimagined ways... The "Mary" within us screams out for relief, but "Martha" has to carry the weight of her burdens and see through difficult circumstances.
And so what can would be "Marys" do? Short of turning our backs on where life has landed us, the only solution is to remember that the Holy Feet are always there and to snatch a few moments each day, in between our many obligations, to sit, behold and breathe!