Much ink has been spilled around Jesus’ words to Martha: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing.” Does this mean the contemplative life is better than the active? That time in prayer is more important than time doing our duties? That there is no way to integrate the battling aspects of our life for solitude and responsibility?
If Jesus was holding Mary up as the epitome of the one who has chosen “the better part,” then what exactly did he mean? If he meant that contemplative life was a more truer form of discipleship than any other, then every other person in the Scriptures who was called as a prophet, priest, king, apostle, evangelist, was invited into a lesser form of discipleship. Jesus himself chose to stay and teach the multitudes rather than take much earned, and much wanted time away with his apostles in prayer and rest. His heart reached out to them who were like sheep without a shepherd. The many nights Jesus spent in prayer were followed by days of intense teaching and healing. Jesus even called his mother into a lifetime of daily chores and hospitality.
Is the life of witness and testimony and servant of less value than sitting at the Lord’s feet? Or is that what the Lord was talking about at all?
Perhaps what the Lord may have been holding up to us all, was Mary’s single-heartedness, her “undistractedness,” her poverty of spirit in the face of her sister’s complaints. Mary’s eyes were only for him, and her ears listened only for his voice. Mary, Jesus’ mother, had a similar round of duties to prepare meals and care for Joseph and Jesus. But I can only imagine the singleness of purpose, the gentle focus, and intentionality, the deep and quiet love, with which the duty of every moment was carried out by the Mother of God. Perhaps Jesus was suffering for all Martha was going through, knowing that the vexation she was experiencing was hurting her, and was not necessary. He wanted so much more for her to be at peace with her soul soaking in his tender love.
So, the Lord sent his apostles to the whole world to baptize people in the name of the Father, of the Son, of the Spirit. However, they were first to go back to Jerusalem and wait for the coming of the Spirit. Their work was not to be their own, marred by competition, rivalry, anxiety and stress, and other “distracted” emotions. Through the Spirit they were to have their eyes only on him, be the conduits of God’s grace to the world, be obedient servants of the Word, and spend themselves for the Master they loved up to and including their ultimate death.
Therefore, on this Feast of St Martha, let us look to our own hearts that we might have the grace to live without distraction as we eagerly fulfill all that God calls us to do in life.
Kathryn James Hermes, FSP, is the author of the newly released title: Reclaim Regret: How God Heals Life’s Disappointments, by Pauline Books and Media. An author and spiritual mentor, she offers spiritual accompaniment for the contemporary Christian’s journey towards spiritual growth and inner healing. She is the director of My Sisters, where people can find spiritual accompaniment from the Daughters of St. Paul on their journey.
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