As they continued their journey he 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 better part and it will not be taken from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
Our Gospel today is often misinterpreted.
It sounds as if we are witnessing a spiritual “smack down” of Martha. But that is far from the case.
Jesus is not criticizing Martha for her actions. In fact, what she is doing is good and necessary. She is providing comfort and hospitality to Jesus. Jesus addresses Martha because he sees that although she is doing the right thing, it is not bringing her joy. Instead, her work is causing her worry and anxiety.
All of us have things we must do. We need to provide for our family. We strive to be good parents. We have responsibilities at work. We need to make life decisions such as what will I do after high school or after college. All of these efforts require time and energy. They are necessary. But what the character of Martha asks us is this: Are our responsibilities lifting us, up or pulling us down? When we do the things that we must do, do they give us satisfaction, or are they depleting us?
If they are depleting us, then we might find ourselves in a condition that one author has called “sunset fatigue”. This is when at the end of the day, the people who need our love the most, the people to whom we are most committed end up getting the leftovers. Sunset fatigue is when we are simply too tired, too drained, or too occupied to love the people to whom we have made the deepest promises.
Martha has sunset fatigue.
She’s doing the right thing, but it is depleting her, making her anxious and worried. This is why Jesus addresses her and shows her a way out. He points to the activity of her sister Mary, who listens to the Lord as he speaks. If Martha is the sister who represents worry, Mary is the sister who represents listening. What Jesus is telling Martha and us is that if we wish to overcome fatigue, worry, and anxiety, the way to do this is by listening. We do not need to do less. We need to hear more. We do not ignore our responsibilities, but we choose to be present to the people who are most important in our lives.
At the end of a busy day, when our mind is filled with concern and anxiety, Jesus asks us to listen to someone who loves us: to ask our eight-year-old how was day camp; to speak to our teenager about a friend who’s been hospitalized; to ask our spouse what was the best part of the day. As we listen to the people who love us, we become grounded and our anxiety is reduced.
We all know that we have a responsibility to worship God that is why we go to Church, read scripture, do our best to follow the words of Jesus in Matthew. But often we do those things with a distracted mind. We do but we do not listen . . . to listen to the Word of God as it addresses us. Because if we listen, we will hear the voice of Christ, and that will remind us to whom we belong. That will give us peace.
Jesus addresses Martha because he is concerned that she is worried and fatigued. Jesus uses the example of Martha to speak to us, to say that when we are filled with anxiety and depleted, it is important to listen to the people who love us and to hear the voice of God in our lives. This is why Jesus says that listening is the better part. Not that it is more important than working or doing. But because it is only through listening that the work we do will give us life.
Prayer of The Day
“Lord Jesus, I desire to find the better part. Grant me perseverance in prayer to come before you where your grace transforms me. I am willing to change so I can discover what it means to live all life’s challenges with my eyes focused on you and my heart centered on you.”
Jesus wasn’t at all minimizing the importance of what Martha was doing; he was focusing, rather, on how she was doing it. The last thing Jesus would want would be for all of us merely to sit at his feet and allow everyone else to work to serve us. That’s certainly not the Christian way or the way Jesus adopted. Like Martha, we are called to work hard serving others but we’re supposed to do it with the spirit of Mary. That’s what the sanctification of our work is all about, to have Martha’s hands and Mary’s contemplative heart, so that we won’t be distracted by many other things, but so focused on Jesus in work, at school and in family life that we’ll be getting fed by him in action and be better equipped to feed others not just by our work but with the One working within us. Each of us is called to work as hard as Martha, out of love for God and others, in setting an eloquent, attractive example like Mary, the example of a life with Jesus at the center.