The encounter between Martha and Jesus at the home of Lazarus, teaches us about overloading our daily lives with so many activities and commitments that knowing, loving, and imitating Christ gets forgotten or relegated to going to church on Sunday. But it also teaches us about becoming ‘so heavenly minded that we are no earthy good.’
Jesus isn't saying that we shouldn't serve others, work hard, and honor our commitments. He just doesn’t want us to be "worried and anxious" about all those activities. It’s important not to lose sight of why we’re doing them. When we do worry and allow anxiety to fill and move us, the result is predictable -frustration, anger, impatience, loss of temper. For many of us, the Martha moments in life seem far more frequent than the Mary moments, and for some of us it is the other way around. Striking a holy balance seems next to impossible.
The problem with Martha is not that she is busy serving and providing hospitality. The problem is that she feels pulled or dragged in different directions. She no doubt wanted to be with everyone else, in the presence of her Lord. But she also was aware of the practical needs and might have thought, well no else is doing it so I’ll have to do it!
So, anxious about all that needed doing, she got busy and as she worked she kept thinking about her sister. Those bitter thoughts got her increasingly worked up until she couldn’t keep it in any longer. She could have recognized what was happening and regained control of her thoughts and emotions. She could have prayed a moment and let the anger be overcome by peace.
She has missed out on the “one thing needed” for true hospitality. There is no greater hospitality than listening to your guest. How much more so when the guest is Jesus! So Jesus says that Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.
Mary might have wondered why Martha didn't just say "Mary, I need some help." rather than embarrass herself and everyone else in the room. Like many peaceful, joyful, prayerful, relaxed people… Mary seems to have no sense of the practical needs. She focuses on sayings like, “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?", and justifies never doing anything but praying and subsequently relies on others for all the fulfillment of even her own practical needs.
Martha needed to learn that what we do, no matter what it is that we do, has to flow out of who we are as true and devoted disciples of Christ, children of God. Reflect on Martha for a minute. Although Jesus affirms that she has an important contribution to make for the gathering in her home, she could have been more free to leave that work for a while and truly receive what Christ was offering by his presence in her home.
But Martha isn’t the only person who had something to learn. Mary – could have been more merciful to her sister and more understanding of the very real demands of the situation. She could have received and adored Jesus, for a while, and then offered to help her sister. Maybe she was planning to do just that, but Martha didn’t give her chance before freaking out about things. Jesus affirms that Mary has the better part and he won’t take that from her, but he doesn’t say that she shouldn’t offer it as sacrifice and help Martha.
Let’s focus on achieving a ‘Holy Balance’ in our lives. Let’s recognize that it’s not a choice between the human or spiritual, prayer and work. It’s not a choice between being a saint or a sinner. Receiving and spending time with Jesus and serving others, are both essential to our lives as disciples of Christ.
Fr. Blair Gaynes has been in the Diocese since 2008.