Luke 10: 38-42
"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: 41-42)
How many of us who have had family gatherings, or dinner parties, can identify with Martha? It is an old cliche, but I think is still valid; “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” We see in today’s Gospel the story of Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus. They hear that Jesus of Nazareth is coming to visit their village. Now, we can speculate that Jesus’ reputation as a preacher, a healer, a miracle worker; has preceded him. And maybe Martha wants the honor, the rise in social standing that would come by having Him as a guest in their house. In some ways, Martha reminds me of Hyacinth, the main character in the BBC/WGBH show “Keeping Up Appearances;” who is middle class, but wants to appear as upper class. And she will do anything to maintain that appearance, often with comic results. So we see Martha rushing about, preparing food, making sure the guest’s glasses are not empty, that their feet have been washed and they are comfortably seated. And amid all this work, all this running around; there is Mary, just sitting there, listening to Jesus talk. We can understand how upset Martha must have been. So she complains to Jesus; and what does He say: “Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her!” That must have taken the wind out of Martha’s sails!
Now before Vatican II; many monastic communities, and religious orders of hermits, have all used that Gospel passage to prove the superiority of the contemplative lifestyle over the active religious lifestyle. Since the Second Vatican Council, we now know that there are many ways to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So what is this “better part,” that Jesus is talking about? I think we can get a clue from the first reading. We see Abraham, seeing visitors coming into his camp. He immediately recognizes that there is something special about these individuals. He senses the presence of the Lord. He immediately offers them hospitality, washes their feet, prepares food and serves them himself. He is aware that he is in God’s presence, and he receives a promise from God, that He will begin the fulfillment of His original promise to make of Abraham a great nation.
Both Abraham and Mary, I believe, knew, sensed that they were in the presence of the Lord, because they were open to that encounter. Martha, however, was not, because she had so many things on her mind. In some ways, we are more like Martha, rather than Mary. How open are we to the presence of Christ in our daily lives, or are we too busy; have we giving in to our anxieties, cares and worries.
But Jesus Christ is with us. We are all part of His Body. He is ready to heal us, to strengthen us, to guide us, to inspire us. We will soon witness the changing of bread and wine into His Body and Blood. And we will receive Him through Holy Communion. When we leave here, let us not forget that Jesus is still with us. And as we do our housework, go to market, work at our offices, and play our video games; keep our hearts open and let Christ speak to us. And if we take the time to listen, we will have chosen the better part and it will not be taken from us.