Today we find Jesus in the home of the sisters, Mary and Martha. We know that they have a brother named Lazarus. We meet the sisters again, showing the same characteristics as in this story, in John’s account of the raising from death of their brother (John 11:1-44). They lived in Bethany, a village about 3-4 km from Jerusalem and it seems that Jesus was a familiar visitor to the house for at the time of Lazarus’ illness Jesus is told: “Your friend Lazarus is sick.”
The story of Martha and Mary is, in a way, a contrast to the previous story about the Good Samaritan. It restores a balance in our following of Christ. The story about being a neighbour could lead us to think that only if we are doing things are we loving God.
Martha was a doer to the point of being a fusspot. Martha, we are told, was “burdened with much serving”. Serving is something that Jesus himself did constantly and he urged his followers to do the same. But it should not be a burden. And, after Martha had complained about her sister, Jesus told her that she was “anxious and worried about many things”. A true servant does not experience anxiety and worry. It signifies a lack of peace.
Because Mary seemed to be doing nothing, Martha saw her as idling and even selfish. Martha must have been somewhat surprised when Jesus said that Mary had “chosen the better part” which would “not be taken from her”.
What was that better part? Was Mary just sitting at the feet of Jesus and doing nothing? No. We are told that she was “listening to him speak”. Listening to his message is something Jesus tells his disciples and the crowd they need to be doing all the time. And we have mentioned before that listening involves understanding, accepting and assimilating that message so that it becomes part of our very selves
If we do not spend time listening to him, how can we know that our activity is properly directed? It is easy for us Christians to be very busy but are we busy about the right things?
To answer that question we have to stop to listen, to discern and to pray. And, ultimately, the highest form of activity in our lives is contemplation, being in conscious contact with God and his Word. If I find myself saying that I do not have time to give some time to prayer or contemplation each day, then there is a serious imbalance in my priorities and in my understanding of what it means to love and serve my God.
This story blends nicely with the parable of the Good Samaritan which went before it. Taken together they express what should be the essence of Christian living – action for others that is guided by what we learn in contemplation. This was the pattern of Jesus’ own life – he spent long hours bringing healing to people’s lives (being a neighbour) but also retired to quiet places to be alone in communion with his Father. The same pattern must be ours too. We call it being “contemplatives in action”.
St. Therese e St Martha, pregate per noi