Jesus is welcomed by two women but in two different ways. Martha is presented as a virtuous welcoming friend who does the practical things according to the Jewish religious and cultured ways. Mary is presented as a person who does the impractical thing of “listening to Him speak of the Good News.”
Mary has chosen “the better part”, which is allowing the Good News to be heard. Martha is doing the practical things of getting a proper meal ready for Jesus, the prophet. Mary is doing nothing except listening. Martha complains about the impracticality of her sister. Jesus replies with something simple and important.
The Gospel episode tells us that much more important than what we can do for Christ is what WE CAN BE FOR HIM, and WHAT HE CAN BE FOR US. Martha was doing all kinds of tasks, and no doubt that was good. But Mary was listening to HIM, letting HIM serve her, being his close, intimate friend, and that was even better, “the better part”.
Martha wanted to serve the Lord, but when she got irritated about how she served Him, she had removed her eyes off what was the most important in her life. The Lord had to remind her. Activism is when we keep doing things but lose sight of why we are doing them, eventually crowding out the people for whom we’re doing them. If you’re in a position of service, whether work, parish, or family, take a moment to remember who you are serving and why.
The Gospel episode is a story between Jesus and ourselves whom Martha and Mary both represent. Martha is the part of us, which wants to win or earn God’s love. Jesus sees Mary as the part of us, which accepts being loved. He looks upon Mary and sees she does accept all that He has been trying to tell humanity about who we are and what we can do to continue the urgency of God’s love in this world.
Jesus makes it clear in today’s Gospel that the fruits of Martha’s labors are temporary – they will be swallowed up by her guests so hastily – but what Mary has gained from her time spent with Jesus will last forever. “It will not be taken from her.”
We, too, can make the same choice. Or better still—we can always carve out time for prayer, and lead active lives.