Sunday, July 18, 2010

Choosing the Better Part

Jesus Visits Martha and Mary
Luke 10-38-41

"Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken from her."

Listening to this Scripture passage during Mass today made me glow. How consoling are the Lord's words: "Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken from her."

I've received many chastisements from the Martha's of the World as I enter more fully into my Carmelite vocation. One Catholic friend stopped talking to me completely because she thought my pursuit of a Carmelite vocation at this time was irresponsible. "Of course, everyone is supposed to pray" she said. "But a mother's place is doing the dishes. Mothers of very young children shouldn't neglect them in order to pray for 30 minutes a day."

It's a modern day problem. The Marthas are still angry at the Marys.

Yet Jesus rebukes Martha. He doesn't say, "well there are two ways to serve God, the contemplative and the active. You go your way and let your sister go her way." He say's clearly "Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her."

My husband and I talked about this scene during our drive to our Carmel meeting today. There is Jesus, the Son of God, sharing delightful truths about heaven. Everyone around him immediately stop their daily tasks. They listen to the Son of God in amazement, in rapture.

Then there's Martha. She's worried about overcooked lentils and unwashed napkins. So Martha walks up to the Savior of the World and stops his speech mid-sentance. "Tell my lazy Sister Mary to get over here and HELP ME!"

Martha's totally convinced that she's the one in the right. She's the ONLY one acting like a proper hostess. The time has come for Jesus to tell Mary to stop wasting her time mooning all over him and to get busy cooking his supper.

Meanwhile, in her fury, Martha interrupts the Savior of the World while he is preaching!

Jesus loves Martha, so he admonishes Martha's sin.

"Mary has chosen the better part."

Today at Mass the word "chosen" leapt out at me. "Chosen." Sitting still and listening to the soft whisper of God in your heart is a choice. You're not lazy for neglecting the housework for thirty minutes in order to listen carefully to Jesus. You're consciously choosing the better part.

Prayer takes time. Today, I attended my monthly Carmel meeting with my husband. As a result, we ate frozen pizza for dinner and I'm still working on the smelly laundry at 8:30 PM at night. Yet because I took time out to be with God, I'm doing our family's wash with greater joy. I came back from my mini-retreat with peace and clarity. I returned from Carmel with a great devotion to my vocation as a wife and a mother.

There's a right balance between listening intently to the Lord and serving him by making his dinner. Mary, the Sister of Lazarus, and Mary the Mother of God, both demonstrate this "better way." First we listen to the Lord, then we do whatever he tells us to do.


  1. This is the FIRST good reflection I've ever heard on this reading! As I was reading it before Mass I told my husband, "I don't like this reading-I just don't get it. If it wasn't for Martha no one would eat!" And then our homily was all about "two ways to serve God" and "one is not better than the other" when the passage CLEARLY states that Mary's "way" is better. The word "better" is even used!! Ugh.

    On the way home I knew the homily wasn't accurate-but I didn't know what was. Thank you for this-I think you got it perfectly right!

  2. Martha was the one who invited Jesus into HER home. It does not say their home. Clearly Mary was there also. Did she live there? Who knows. Like any big sister she told not asked Mary to help her. No response from Mary. Just from Jesus. Mary has chosen the better way.

  3. It's important to remember that Martha became a Saint only AFTER she listened to Jesus's scolding and took his words to heart.

    Martha makes a return to the Gospel story after her brother's death. If Martha was stressed during a dinner party, we can only imagine how many tasks happened after her brother's death. Simply cleaning up from the wake would have been overwhelming.

    Yet this time, Martha leaves all her busy tasks, and runs to met Jesus on the road. Thanks to Martha's intimate conversation with Jesus we have one of the most amazing passages in Scripture. Jesus tells her "I am the way, the Truth and the life. He who believes in me will never die!"

    Jesus didn't scold Martha because he was trying to say "making dinner isn't important." Jesus is warning her, "Pay attention to me first! The dialogue between you and me is going to change the whole world!"

    It's the same for us. We mothers need to make dinner many times for our hungry spouses and our children. Dinner is important.

    Still, we want to be careful that we don't neglect paying attention to the "guest of our souls," Jesus, in the midst of the daily grind of family life. The intimate conversations that we have with Jesus will develop into the "good fruit" that will spiritually feed our families and the whole world.

  4. At the same time, we should be humble in our choices. I admire your Mary heart, but reading this made me feel a little less encouraged as I struggle to balance it all.