“Wash the plate not because it is dirty nor because you are told to wash it, but because you love the person who will use it next.” -St. Teresa of Calcutta
This week we celebrated the feast of St. Martha, who we know from one part of the Gospel as a go-getter, a doer … and a bit of a complainer. When Martha complained to Jesus that her sister Mary was not helping her serve Jesus and the disciples, Jesus told her that Mary had chosen the better part. Mary was sitting and listening to Jesus, while Martha was concerned about the preparations that needed to be made.
Earlier this week on Father Simon Says™, Fr. Richard Simon suggested that the Lord might not have rebuked Martha if she had been serving from a place of love. But it appears she had a spirit of resentment rather than self-gift. He encouraged listeners to question their own intentions when they are serving others. If you find that serving others makes you resentful or prideful, like Martha, you are not choosing the better part.
That prompted a listener to call in and ask, “How do I know if I’m serving for the glory of God or just for personal satisfaction?”
Fr. Simon responded, “Well, the glory of God and personal satisfaction aren’t contradictory. I would say that Martha was not in the right spirit in that time, because she complained about all the work she had to do. She didn’t say, ‘Oh boy! I’ve got more work to do. I love doing this!'”
Offering an example of this, he explained, “My grandfather was a banker, and he and his fellow bankers had this German gourmet eating society. And when they came over to cook, these guys would kick all of the women out of the kitchen. They enjoyed the cooking and weren’t going to share the job when they had one of these grand meals.”
“The thing is, if grandpa had complained about all the cooking he had to do then he wouldn’t have been doing it in the right spirit,” Fr. Simon pointed out. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing something, if it’s a godly thing to do such as service, if you really enjoy it.”
Illustrating his point through an alternate example, he said, “So often people are gratified by people loving their food. In Greece once when I was a younger man visiting a friend, the first thing off the plane I was taken to dinner at mama’s house. And first it was you need more bread for your oil! And then you need more oil for your bread! I thought I was going to explode, but she was just so enjoying serving me that she didn’t care to notice that I was in pain.”
What these examples point to is that if you are serving others so that others may notice how good you are, or to gain praise, or because it’s something you want, not what the other person wants – you are not working from a spirit of service but a spirit of pride.
“When we become belligerent about service, by saying, ‘No one is helping me! I gotta do all this work by myself!’ then we’re not doing it for service. And if we need to be rewarded by people making a big fuss over our food and eating more of it than four people should eat, then I think we’re also not doing it in the right spirit.”
Fr. Simon suggested that another way to approach this would be to say, “‘I’ve made this. I offer it to you, take as much or as little. It’s just my way of saying welcome.’ You see, when I involve myself in it and I become the object of my service, then I am not a true Martha in that sense. I am the lesser Martha.”
Listen to the full conversation below: