A Clash Of Temperaments

Luke chapter 10, verses 38-42

Do we allow enough space for temperament when it comes to religion? I think not. A notable exception is to be found on the menu of religious vocations that seemingly recognizes the need to accommodate wide temperamental differences ranging from those suited to silence and contemplation to those who prefer the busy scene of an inner city ministry.

Now, in spite of some who suggest that Martha's sister Mary is cast in the image of the professed Religious and Martha in that of everybody's mum, today's Gospel story has little to do with religious vocations and everything to do with temperament ...my temperament and yours. It is about what Jesus referred to as "the better part."

Some of us are "live wires' and some are naturally quiet. It is difficult for the live wire to understand the quiet soul, and the person who is devoted to quiet time and contemplation often considers the more active to be somehow less mature.

The truth is that God did not make us all alike. One person may choose silent meditation and another may pray:

"Lord of all pots and pans and things,
Since I have no time to be a saint by doing lovely things,
Or watching late with you, or dreaming in the dawn light,
Or storming Heaven's gates,
Make me a Saint by getting meals and washing up the plates."

There is, in fact, no "better part" here. God is well served by both.

To gain some understanding of what Jesus meant by Mary having chosen the "better part," we have to dig a little deeper.

Think of where Jesus was going when this happened. He was on His way to Calvary. He needed a little T.L.C. and He knew that He would get it from Martha and Mary. Martha responded by creating a whirlwind in the kitchen and complaining about her sister's failure to help. Jesus put His arm around her and said: "keep it simple Martha, only one thing, one dish is necessary. Whatever you have at hand will do just fine. Nothing else is necessary." In other words: "What I need is some nourishment, yes, but not a six course meal. What I truly crave is just being with those who love me, the peace and quiet of your home and your sympathetic attention to my cause ...if only for an hour or so.

Mary understood. Martha did not. Jesus loved them both beyond telling but, at that moment, Mary had chosen "the better part." Instinctively she knew what He needed most and what her role, "her part," her expression of loving kindness must be.

Was Martha a little bit hurt? Quite possibly, but who could long resist the sincerity of the Son of God?

Most of us can identify with her. So often we want to be kind to people, but in our own way, and if our own way turns out to be inappropriate, we too tend to take offence. But surely we ought to be more sensitive to the real needs of those we would serve and act accordingly ...even if it means scrapping our own plans.

Some situations call for pots and pans ...others for peaceful and quiet attention. Sometimes we are called upon to be Mary and sometimes Martha. It all depends upon circumstance.

We can never be too kind, too hospitable, as long as we have the sensitivity to discern how best to express it.

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