Of Marthas and Marys

Photograph by Joey Spadoni

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus teaches in Martha’s home. Martha serves the group while Mary listens to the Teacher. Martha complains to Jesus, and Jesus affirms Mary’s decision. 

Martha and Mary. Both were subjected to external expectations and notions, and while Martha dutifully fulfilled hers, Mary cast them off, preferring instead to have a direct experience of God. 

Faith based on notions is weak, malleable, vulnerable, and susceptible to attack. Notions can include teachings, dogma, tradition, writings, scripture, but it can also include those societal, familial, and personal pressures that affect our choices.

Faith based on experience is strong, secure, reliable, and defendable from attack. Experience includes . . . well, experiences, actual lived feelings, conversations, ordeals, triumphs. 

Martha’s faith can be described as being based on notions, while Mary’s faith is based on experience. Martha focused on the external notions of what she thought she was supposed to do in the presence of God, while Mary just focused on the lived experience of being with Jesus. 

Photograph by Joey Spadoni

Recently, I have heard numerous people discuss survey results indicating that many Catholics do not believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Discussions of these results is always followed up with an obligatory, “isn’t that sad?” But I ask you: is it?

We live in an age of skepticism. Fraud, misrepresentation, forgery—these dangerous illusions are very easy to deploy against the gullible. Do we want to live in a world where people believe things simply because they are told to? Advocates of that path should open a history book and brush up on the tyrannical regimes of the Fascists, Communists, and other radical ideological groups. After a nightmarish administration is toppled, how many followers plead innocence, claiming “I just did what they told me to do!” 

Should faith in God be an imposition or should it be a relationship?

I celebrate our age of skepticism; in a world where an average person questions wild allegations and challenges inconsistent findings, all of us benefit. The scientific method has largely weeded out hoaxes and other misrepresentations, and I believe that is a good thing. But how should a Church (built upon faith) proceed in an age of skepticism and distrust? 

There is this great Buddhist teaching, which I am probably butchering, in which a wise teacher tries to enlighten her students about the beauty of the moon. She explains the luminance of the moon and then points towards it with her finger. The students marvel at the teacher’s wonderful hand as it points aimlessly upwards, blind to the actual space stone orbiting above them. The teacher pleads with the students to look up, but all the students can appreciate is her hand. 

Notions are the hand; experience is the moon. 

We need notions to educate us about God, but they cannot, and never will, replace God. In my opinion, as soon as the teachings, dogmas, traditions, writings, scriptures, or external expectations, cause us to lose sight of the divine, then they have lost their value. Let us not bicker amongst ourselves about the hand; let us all look together at the glory of the moon. 

Everyday Jesus comes to teach at our homes, and every day we have a choice: will we be like Martha and focus on the external, or will we be like Mary and focus on the experience of Jesus? Will we stare at the hand, or will we appreciate the moon?

Faith based on the external is weak. In our age of skepticism, the faith-filled are bombarded by critics and doubters everywhere they go. When cracks form in the foundation build on external notions, on teachings given to us by others, the very structure of our faith life may tumble to the ground. Why do you think so many Catholics doubt the true presence in the Eucharist? Have they experienced the true presence or were they simply told of it?

Photograph by Joey Spadoni

Faith based on experience is strong. In our age of skepticism, the faith-filled whose belief is rooted in lived experience can weather the storm of the critics and the doubters, and respond, “I appreciate your questions and concerns, but I know Him and He knows me.”

Recently, I have begun meditating in a 24-hour Adoration Chapel. I don’t fully understand it, but I feel different when meditating with the Eucharist. No matter what I do, I can never truly explain to you what I feel, but the Eucharist helps me; that is my lived experience. It doesn’t matter have fervently I point towards the moon, for all you will ever see is my finger. Instead, I encourage you to be open, open to an experience. Don’t take my word for it; live it for yourself. 

Everyday Jesus comes to teach at your home, and every day you have a choice: will you be like Martha or Mary. Will you develop your own lived experience and base your faith upon that? Will you focus on the external, or will you sit on the floor at the feet of our Lord and listen to Him teach? 

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