NECESSARY AND URGENT
While the disciples continue on their journey, Jesus alone enters a village and heads to a house where he finds two sisters whom he dearly loves. Their friend Jesus’ presence is going to provoke two very different reactions in these women.
Mary, surely the younger sister, drops everything and remains «seated at the Lord’s feet». Her only concern is to listen to him. The Gospel writer describes her with the characteristics of the true disciple: at the feet of the Master, attentive to his voice, welcoming his Word and nourishing herself with his teaching.
Martha’s reaction is different. From the moment Jesus arrived, she’s done nothing but do her best to welcome him and dutifully attend to his needs. Luke describes her as one weighed down by all she has to do. Overwhelmed by the situation and hurt by her sister, she lays out her complaint to Jesus: «Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do the serving all by myself? Please tell her to help me».
Jesus doesn’t lose his cool. He responds to Martha with great tenderness, slowly repeating her name; then he helps her see that he’s concerned about her burden, but she should know that listening to him is so essential and necessary that not one disciple should be left without his Word: «Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part, and it is not to be taken from her».
Jesus doesn’t criticize Martha’s service. How could he do so if he himself is teaching everyone by his example to go about welcoming, serving, helping others? What he criticizes is her way of working so nervously, under the pressure of too much to do.
Jesus doesn’t place in opposition the active and the contemplative life, nor the faithful listening of his Word and the practical commitment of living his style of self-giving to others. What he does do is draw attention to the danger of living absorbed by excessive activity, in constant inner agitation, strangling the Spirit within us, spreading anxiety and fatigue rather than peace and love.
Compelled by the dissipation of energy, we get used to asking the more generous Christians for all kinds of commitments both in and outside of the Church. If at the same time we don’t offer them space and time to get to know Jesus, listen to his Word and feed on his Gospel, we run the risk of letting agitation and anxiety grow in the Church, but not his Spirit and his peace. We can end up with communities led by burnt-out functionaries, but not by witnesses who radiate their Master’s spirit and life.
José Antonio Pagola
Translator: Fr. Jay VonHandorf