Love grows. Love matures. Love can be messy.
When I engage in marriage prep, I love to use love stories. I recall an interview I heard on National Public Radio years ago. NPR was doing a series on marriage, and they interviewed an older married woman about her marriage. The interviewer asked, “Was it love at first sight?” The woman answered, “No. But it is now.”
She revealed that her love for her husband had evolved.
Let’s take a look at the situation of Martha and Mary.
Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”
Allow me to take some liberties with this text. Martha and Mary were apparently unmarried sisters living with their brother, Lazarus. They were family friends with Jesus. it is hard for me to believe that both women were not smitten with Jesus. I’m not suggesting anything more than a purely human, healthy attraction. Both women loved him, and probably on many levels, including spiritual.
Here was Mary, fixed to her spot, listening with rapt attention to his every word.
Notice that Martha did not take her complaint to Mary, but chose, instead, to involve Jesus in her complaint. But it appears that Jesus was not as sympathetic to Martha as Martha was hoping.
Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.* There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”
Mary was in love. Take that any way you want, but she was in love with Jesus. The whole family loved Jesus. Mary was present to Jesus in her love for him. Jesus would not take that away from her.
Martha was in love with Jesus, also, but appeared to be competing with Mary for Jesus’ attention. And, it appears she felt he was ignoring her.
This was apparently a complex situation. Of course they were drawn to him in faith. But there was also a complex friendship that probably spanned many visits and encounters. It reveals a lot about Jesus that he had such complex human relationships. But, remember, he sought loving, loyal friendships from the beginning. As he said to Martha,
There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”
This situation happened not too long before Jesus’ last visit to Bethany and Jerusalem, and the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Let’s look at Jesus’ relationship with Peter and the Apostles in light of his relationship with Lazarus and his sisters. He loved Lazarus and his sisters on many levels, but he did not choose them to be Apostles. They were his friends.
He sought deep friendship and loyalty with Peter and each of the Apostles, but one would betray him, Peter would deny him, and all but John would flee from him when he was crucified. Jesus wants real friendship and love and loyalty. His heart would be broken many times over. But, he continued to give much more than he received.
In a Magnificat reflection on this event, I was struck by the words of St. Teresa of Avila regarding Martha. St. Teresa wrote,
“It seems that in saying nothing to her sister but in directing her whole complaint to you, Lord, that love made her dare to ask you why you were not concerned. And even your reply seems to refer to her complaint as I have interpreted it, for love alone is what gives value to all things; and a kind of love so great that nothing hinders it is the one thing necessary.”
One of the things I have experienced and observed is that love is often clumsy. I think of myself as a “clumsy lover”. Perhaps that is because we all have to try and take risks with love. Martha was awkward in her love for Jesus. Mary loved him with abandon. Somehow I think of Mary’s love for Jesus is the model for marriage and religious vocation. Love evolves. We should not be afraid to love with abandon, even when it is clumsy.