Gospel Reading: Lk 10:38-42
Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. 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.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.
There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the Reflection.
THE ‘ONE THING’ NECESSARY
Martha is presented as a kind of foil to her sister Mary. While Martha is the “in charge” type, Mary is a contemplative, listening to Jesus. Their characters are also borne out in John’s Gospel. During dinner to thank Jesus for raising their brother Lazarus back to life, Martha serves while Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with costly perfumed oil (cf Jn 12:1-3). In the culture of the time, Martha has reason to be disturbed. First, Mary leaves her alone with the serving. Secondly, she is not supposed to be alone with a man (Jesus) in the living room (there is no mention of Lazarus around to keep them company). Why does Mary sit at the Master’s feet? Does she want to be a rabbi someday?
There are no women-rabbis in Israel! Besides, what will the neighbors think when they see Jesus and Mary in a “compromising” situation? We can imagine Martha asking Jesus to lecture her sister on a woman’s place and proper behavior. Instead, Martha is the one who gets a lecture about “the one thing” that every human being should be concerned about, which Mary has realized and chosen.
In truth, Jesus is most appreciative of Martha’s hospitality. He rebukes her with the gentlest of tones (“Martha, Martha!”). But he has come not so much for Martha’s serving as for offering “food” that satisfies deeper human longing: his word. He is relativizing any kind of work for one thing that is most important. And this “one thing” is listening to Jesus who speaks “words of eternal life.”
Spiritual directors invite us to ask ourselves when we become depressed after losing something important, “What is that in the light of eternity?” The question declares with confidence that nothing truly good is forever lost because it is in God. A person with the mind of Mary can declare with
St. Teresa of Avila, “God alone suffices.” Luke puts the story of Martha and Mary right after the parable of the Good Samaritan (cf Lk 10:29-37). The parable teaches that we have to “go and do” what the Samaritan did, attending to our neighbor who is in need. But Luke is also telling us that, as John Milton puts it, “they also serve who only stand and wait” – or “sit” in attention – like Mary. Active service and contemplative listening are two complementary elements of our Christian discipleship better part and it will not be taken from her.”
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