Martha and Mary

I recently saw a film about the last days of Hitler. The dictator is in his bunker below Berlin moving imaginary armies around a map in a final effort to save Germany from defeat. The camera moves to the faces of the generals who surround the table and shows their total disbelief. When one of th

em tries to tell the leader ‘there are no armies left,’ Hitler shouts and rants at them. Gideon Gono is no Hitler but he is good at ceaseless activity, which does everything except actually face the reality. On the same day as The Herald covered its front page with his latest moves there was a report in another paper reminding us that the World Bank considers our economic crisis ‘ the worst in the world outside a war zone.’
A small group of people last week invited Archbishop Pius Ncube to talk to them about what the Church could do in Zimbabwe to help resolve the crisis. What was striking was his total honesty in the face of the situation. He simply said, ‘we don’t know what to do.’ In different ways he repeated the same message: there is no leadership, the ‘opposition’ is infiltrated and divided. We don’t know what to do. You come to a meeting hoping for some inspiration and you go away empty and desolate. But at least it is the truth.
Filling our news pages and screens with activity to create a sense of measures taken to solve our problems is like treating people suffering from HIV and AIDS with Panodol. We are seen to be doing something but we are avoiding the real issue. There is a story at the end of the tenth chapter of Luke’s gospel in which Jesus calls on some friends. They are two sisters and one of them gets busy preparing a meal, as any mother would do when a guest arrives. But she has a sister who is content to just sit by Jesus and listen to him. The busy sister complains but Jesus chides her gently and says, ‘no, your sister here has chosen the right thing to do.’
We have pondered the story of Martha and Mary for two thousand years and still can’t quite get inside it. We know Jesus is not condemning the work of Martha but he is saying that beyond work, beyond ceaseless activity, there is something more essential. And what is that? I cannot give a complete answer but it has to do with being quiet sometimes. It has to do with allowing reality to penetrate within me, listening to the cries of those who are suffering, attending to the heart of God who longs to heal his world but cannot do so unless invited.

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