It was a crazy morning. I was racing around the house throwing clothes in the hamper, dishes in the dishwasher, trying to get it all done before going to work. My husband passed me on his way to daily mass and I exploded. How could he be going to mass?! Doesn’t he think I want to go to mass? But no — there’s too much work to do.
Just then my mom called, and I dumped it all on her. How much there was to do, how little was getting done, how everything fell on me, and — what was that? — no, I can’t possibly help you for a whole day next week.
When those words came out of my mouth, I was so ashamed. Somehow, I’d become such a slave to “things I have to do” that I couldn’t make time for daily mass or to help my mother. And this is my mom who all her life has been busy, put upon, probably often overwhelmed — but who always has time for others. And she had time for me that morning.
“Honey,” she said. “Remember when you learned to do chaine turns in ballet class?” Chaîné is French for “chain” or “link.” Chaine turns are short, fast turns that take you across the floor like a spinning top. The trick to not spinning out of control is to find a spot on the wall where you’re headed and keep your eye fixed to that spot no matter what. As your body turns, you whip your head around and grab the spot again. My teacher used to line us up across one wall and aim us each at a colored dot on the other. She’d start the music and off we’d go. Anyone who didn’t focus on her dot invariably lost her balance and crashed into somebody else or hit the floor.
“Where are your eyes?” my mom asked. Where is your focus? I was looking inside, at me and my problems, instead of toward God. And I was getting caught up in the spin. Like Martha in Luke’s gospel, I had become “distracted with much serving.”
“Distracted,” in Greek, is perispao. It means to be pulled in different ways at the same time. Perispao is having so much in your mind that you can’t focus. Perhaps Martha wants to listen to Jesus the way her sister is, but she keeps seeing coffee cups that need filling, empty plates and trash that need to go to the kitchen. There’s a lot to do and no one’s helping. In particular, her sister’s not. And rather than ask her to help, Martha interrupts their guest.
“Lord, don’t you care that Mary left me to do this alone? Tell her then to help me!”
Martha is hurt that Jesus doesn’t seem to notice her efforts. She has poured herself into being a hostess, she’s given Jesus a place to teach, she has provided everything they need – and he doesn’t seem to care that it’s a lot of work, or that she’s doing it alone.
I love his answer. “Martha, Martha. You are anxious and troubled about many things.” Can you hear the love in his voice? She thinks he hasn’t noticed her. But he sees that although she asked him into her home, she doesn’t see him. Instead of keeping her eyes on her purpose, she’s got them on the problem.
Martha isn’t the only one in Scripture to lose her balance. Peter lost his as well, when he was walking on the water. They both fell for the same reason. He took his eyes off the Lord and looked at the waves—and began to sink. Martha took her eyes off the Lord and looked at the “many things” that must be done, and began to sink inside. But Jesus was right there when they turned to him.
In the situation you’re in right now: where are your eyes? Go to Jesus, keep your eyes on him even (and especially!) when you’re headed into a spin.
Sometimes the lectionary pairs the story of Mary and Martha with the account of Abraham entertaining the Lord (who appeared to him as three men). Read it sometime in Genesis 18:1-15 and notice the verbs. Abraham runs, he hastens, he asks that things be done quickly. Like Martha, he’s racing around — but he’s not frantic or anxious or troubled. His eyes aren’t on the tasks or whether the men notice how much he is doing for them; his eyes are on the Lord.
Dear Lord, help us fix our eyes on you. Deliver us from pre-occupation with ourselves and our needs so we will be free to do the work of prayer and charity in sincerity of heart. Through the same Christ our Lord, Amen.
© 2016 Sarah Christmyer