Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” (Luke 10:40)
Who of us, when reading the story of Mary and Martha, can not sympathize with poor Martha, left to do all the work while her sister sat at the feet of the Lord? Having come from a large family I can tell you that those who sat around while the others worked were not easily excused or forgiven. They had better have a cast on a major limb if they wanted to get out of the dishes!
Family dynamics aside, and with all due respect to holy St. Martha, there is an attitude in the above excerpt that bears pondering. It is an attitude that is prevalent in our society today and I’m sure you have noticed it, perhaps even—during a thorough examination of conscience—in yourself. I am speaking of the epidemic of entitlement, the attitude that we somehow deserve more than we are being given, that our rights have been trampled, and that it’s just not fair! Certainly, one of the Baals of this age is the Baal of entitlement.
As I read through the Sunday Mass readings for the month of July, I found examples of the opposite attitude in several places. In Genesis 18:27-28, notice how Abraham addresses the Lord:
“Abraham spoke up again: ‘See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord, though I am but dust and ashes! What if there are five less than fifty innocent people? Will you destroy the whole city because of those five?’”
Abraham brings up a concern of his, but he prefaces it with an act of sincere humility, reminding himself of his own unworthiness to even address the Lord, let alone ask him for a favor. Abraham makes no demands but asks with deference and reverence. The Lord is pleased and responds with mercy.
The other passage that gives us a clue to the right attitude is Luke 11:9-13:
“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?”
Again, we see asking—not demanding—as getting the loving attention of the Father. We see a Father who knows how to give good gifts to his children, who knows their needs and will see to them. This passage encourages us to trust in the goodness of our Abba.
In my family of eight siblings, you could often hear one of us crying, “How come SHE gets to and I don’t?” My father, who knew that fairness had nothing to do with accounting and everything to do with providing for each one’s immediate need, and who also had a wicked wit, would answer, “Because she’s the favorite!” Of course that fed into our righteous indignation, but deep down, whether we admitted it or not, we knew that each one of us was the favorite in our time of need, and seeing that our indignation had no effect, we had no choice but to let it go.
An attitude of entitlement should have no place in a life of penance. God owes us nothing, and we owe him everything. Even on our best penitential day, we can only give him what he first gives us. There is a noticeable difference between the days I try to do it on my own power, and the days I humbly ask for the grace I need to get through the day’s penance. I know exactly how much penance this weak sinner is capable of outside of grace, and that is absolutely none.
I learned from my earthly father that life is not fair, that all things are not equal, and that a father who loves us will give us all we need. Ask humbly and in trust, and you shall receive all the grace you need, exactly when you need it. Jesus we trust in you.