In the Gospels, the sisters Martha and Mary are described as friends of Jesus. In his masterpiece, “Christ in the House of Martha and Mary,” the Dutch master Jan Vermeer paints an extraordinary image of the Gospel scene when Jesus enters the home of his friends. Vermeer’s image offers us a powerful visual homily on what it means to be a friend of Jesus, an invitation that is implicit in all catechetical activity and is the goal of the spiritual life.
A Special Guest
In the tenth chapter of his Gospel, Saint Luke tells us that Jesus entered a village where a woman named Martha welcomed him (10:38-42). Her sister, Mary, sat close to Jesus at his feet, listening attentively to his words. In frustration, Martha, burdened and distracted with multiple tasks of hospitality, comes to Jesus and says, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.”
Jesus responds with powerful words, “Martha, Martha,” he says, “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.”
As a true friend, Jesus listened to Martha’s complaint and then spoke plainly and from the heart. Martha had to learn that true hospitality does not merely consist in multi-tasking with its endless distractions and demands. To truly welcome him into her home Martha needed, first and foremost, to encounter Jesus personally, to grow in communion with him through attentive listening. Being in Jesus’ presence was more important than doing many tasks, however necessary they were. Active service of Jesus needs to be rooted in silent contemplation.