Worry or Listening

July 21, 2019

Luke 10: 38-42

The most important decision we have to make in understanding today’s Gospel is to imagine what tone Jesus uses when he addresses Martha. His words are “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.” Is Jesus speaking out of frustration and criticism because of the choices Martha has made? Or is his tone is one of concern and compassion because he knows Martha is not happy? I would suggest we adopt the latter option. Jesus is not criticizing Martha for her actions. In fact, what she is doing is good and necessary. She is providing comfort and hospitality to Jesus. Jesus addresses Martha because he sees that although she is doing the right thing, it is not bringing her joy. Instead her work is causing her worry and anxiety.

All of us have responsibilities like Martha, things we must do. We need to provide for our family. We must strive to be good parents. We have responsibilities at work. We need to make life decisions such as what will I do after high school or after college. All of these efforts require time and energy. They are necessary. But what the character of Martha asks us is this: Are our responsibilities lifting us, up or pulling us down?  When we do the things that we must do, do they give us satisfaction, or are they depleting us?

If they are depleting us, then we might find ourselves in a condition that one author has called “sunset fatigue”. This is when at the end of the day, the people who need our love the most, the people to whom we are most committed end up getting the leftovers. Sunset fatigue is when we are simply too tired, too drained, or too occupied to love the people to whom we have made the deepest promises. Martha has sunset fatigue. She’s doing the right thing, but it is depleting her, making her anxious and worried. This is why Jesus addresses her and shows her a way out. He points to the activity of her sister Mary, who listens to the Lord as he speaks. If Martha is the sister who represents worry, Mary is the sister who represents listening. What Jesus is telling Martha and us is that if we wish to overcome fatigue, worry, and anxiety, the way to do this is by listening. We do not need to do less. We need to hear more. We do not ignore our responsibilities, but we choose to be present to the people who are most important in our lives.

At the end of a busy day, when our mind is filled with concern and anxiety, Jesus asks us to listen to someone who loves us: to ask our eight-year-old how was day camp; to speak to our teenager about a friend who’s been hospitalized; to ask our spouse what was the best part of the day. As we listen to the people who love us, we become grounded and our anxiety is reduced.  We all know that we have a responsibility to worship God that is why we are here today. Coming here today is doing the right thing. But we can come here with our minds still full of worry and anxiety. We can sit here still thinking about what happened before we came to Mass or what we have to do when we leave Mass. Jesus asks us to come here and to listen: to listen to a fellow parishioner who greets us or shares a problem with us, to listen to the music that moves us, to listen to the Word of God as it addresses us. Because if we listen, we will hear the voice of Christ, and that will remind us to whom we belong. That will give us peace.

Jesus addresses Martha because he is concerned that she is worried and fatigued.  Jesus uses the example of Martha to speak to us, to say that when we are filled with anxiety and depleted, it is important to listen to the people who love us and to hear the voice of God in our lives. This is why Jesus says that listening is the better part. Not that it is more important than working or doing. But because it is only through listening that the work we do will give us life.

One Comment

  1. Jeffrey Jeney says:

    Well, finally someone who makes better sense of this Gospel than comparing the active to the contemplative life. This thoughtful presentation of a beautiful story gives all of us pause. How often people are doing the right thing but find themselves depleted. Behind that depletion could be depression and anger. Although Fr. Smiga did not delve into those situations, he does give us a lot to think about. The depletion he refers to can cause us to be terribly introspective and to miss opportunities to listen to those around us and to give love freely. And in giving of ourselves freely, we may find that we are no longer feeling empty, but we are filled up.
    Thanks, Fr. Smiga, for taking the time to make this Gospel come alive and not simply be a lecture about the “tension” between action and contemplation.

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