It is easy to guess why Martha is feeling burdened in our Gospel today. It’s not really because she has a lot of things to do in the kitchen. In fact I think she’s quite used to doing it all efficiently. I think she is burdened because she wants to do something else.
Her sister is in the living room, enjoying the company of Jesus, listening to his teachings. She wants to do that too. But she seems to have convinced herself that she had no choice but do all the cooking in the kitchen instead. That is how she has defined her role. She is also burdened by the definition of a woman’s role as presupposed in Jewish society: a woman belongs to the kitchen. That her role is to serve the men. She was quite used to playing this role before, until her sister started going against it. At that moment, Mary chose the role of a disciple seated at the Rabi’s feet and learning from him, taking to heart the Word of God so she could serve it too.
Actually, there are two persons cooking up something in the Gospel. Martha cooking up literal food in the kitchen, and Jesus cooking up spiritual food in the living room, and teaching Mary how to do it. In case you did not know, preparing for a homily like this is a whole art and discipline in itself. It’s very much like preparing a dish, making it palatable, and serving it well. And believe me, we do not always succeed in it.
Perhaps because I love to eat like a Kapampangan, I’ve always loved to learn how to prepare food myself. I used to enjoy watching my mother do it in the kitchen when I was a little boy. There were times when I wanted to assist her so I also could learn to cook, but I was always called to do the men roles in the garden while my sisters did the women roles in the kitchen. There is really something oppressive about this typecasting of roles. I wonder how many wives feel so burdened when their husbands just cannot include among their men roles some share in baby sitting, changing diapers or putting their babies to sleep, as if it was below their dignity to do so.
I think Jesus has some important tips in today’s Gospel for burdened people like Martha on how to UNBURDEN THEMSELVES. First, don’t do what you need to do with a heavy heart. Even the lightest task can become a heavy burden if you carry it out reluctantly, if you cannot give your whole heart to it. Like the reluctant prophet Jonah in our first reading. The story of Jonah will continue to be read tomorrow, so let me just reserve it for tomorrow.
The second tip is, to unburden oneself with the overload of stereotypes and pressures to live up to societal expectations. We only make ourselves miserable when we do things against our will, when we do things only to comply with an obligation or to meet up to someone’s expectations.
Obedience is not about surrendering to God’s will like you have been defeated and had no other choice. Obedience is rather about embracing God’s will as your own, about freely responding to his invitation.
In Matthew Chapter 11, Jesus gives his disciples a good summary of what it takes to unburden our lives and living what Milan Kundera calls “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”. Jesus says, “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest.” He offers a secret to living the lightness of being, but his solution is paradoxical, “Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me.”
What he is trying to tell us is, “What often burdens us in this world is not really the weight of the loads that we carry but the manner in which we carry them.” As they would say in Tagalog, “Wala iyan sa dinadala. Nasa nagdadala.” I am sure the cross that he carried to Calvary was pretty heavy too. What lightened it was his will to embrace the Father’s will. That was all that it took to make his yoke easy and his burden light. To carry it as an act of love, for the redemption of the world.