A building engineer was about to retire from his job after thirty-five years of excellent service to his company. Just as he was completing the papers for his retirement, the CEO of the company calls his attention to one last building project he wanted him to execute which would be a private residence in a choice area of the township. The builder was not expecting another assignment, he reluctantly agrees to take up the project, but he would not put in his best with the feeling that the idea of a new project amounts to encroachment into his retirement time.
After the project, the CEO comes to the site, and after a brief inspection, he tells the building engineer that the company is happy to give him the new residence as a gift for his exceptional services all those years. The builder could not contain the news as he breaks down in tears, not because of the surprise gift, but because he chose to do a quick and shoddy job not knowing that he was building his house.
Our Choices Could Help or Hinder us
Life is a sum of all your choices, says, Albert Camus. A marriage which brings about a family is the fruit of the decisions a couple. The lifestyle you lead today is the summary of the choices of your “yesterdays.” Your friends, job, food, and even your faith are products of your choices at one time or the other in the past.
In the Garden of Eden, God gave Adam and Eve the freedom to choose what to eat among all the trees in the Garden, but they had to choose wisely because the tree at the middle of the Garden would have negative consequences if they go for it (Gen. 2:16-17). In the First Reading today (Gen. 18:1-10a), Abraham chooses to invite three strangers into his house without the prescience that he is opening his doors for God
Coming to the Gospel Reading (Luke 10:38-42), we see Martha making a good choice by inviting Jesus into their home and preparing a meal for him and those with him. The story would have ended with Martha’s hospitality, but our Lord Jesus Christ steps in to share the Word of God, which is life (John 6:63). In the course of sharing the Word of God in their home, Martha goes about cooking and setting out the table for a meal while her sister sits by the feet of Jesus Christ as a disciple would do, listening to the Word God.
Afterward, Martha begins to feel the burdening impact of the cooking and serving and decides to complain to Jesus, “Lord do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me”. In reply, Jesus says to her, “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”.
Martha’s Burden of Distraction
In most reflections on this passage, people wrongfully try to fault Martha for focusing on hospitality to Jesus instead of listening to him. Fair enough, Martha made a good choice from the time she welcomed Jesus into their home to the periods of cooking and serving the meal. However, Mary’s choice of sitting by the feet of the Lord to listen to him remains the better one.
It was not the cooking and serving that degraded Martha in the narrative, but her choice to allow the domestic activities to burden and distract her from the message of our Lord Jesus Christ. Cooking, serving, and listening to people is a usual practice among the womenfolk, so why was Martha’s case different? Our Lord answers this question by remarking that Martha is anxious and worried about many things.
Martha’s Anxiety and Worry about Many Things
We are often like Martha with our overwhelming loads of anxiety and worry about many and unnecessary things. One could see Martha in the light of a perfectionist. The type that would want all the plates and cups to sit in a manner that they align at some angles. She could be the type that would like the table covers to match with the curtains and the dishes to be at some exact spots.
Our Lord knows how to read the mind of people, and his response captures the situation. Martha could be telling Mary in other words to vacate that spot she was sitting at the feet of the Lord so that he could have enough space to stretch while eating; she could be saying “Mary stand up from there and make way for the soup.”
Like Martha, we often burden ourselves with so many unnecessary details that we lose the essential thing. Often, we think that our anxiety and worry could change anything; they wouldn’t. In the Gospel of Matthew (6:27) our Lord asked, “And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?”
Moving Forward: Choosing Mary’s One Thing and the Better Part
In April 2013, Gary Keller with Jay Papasan published a book through Bard Publishers Texas with the title, “The one thing: The surprisingly simple truth behind extraordinary results.” In the non-fiction and no.1 WSJ bestseller, the authors argue that we could achieve maximum success in life by doing “one thing” at a time. In life, many things contest for our attention and whatever we give our attention takes us.
Most things we do are good, but some others are better and more desirable. For instance, hanging out with friends and having a good time is good, but spending time with God in prayer is a better choice if one must choose between the two. The Book of Psalms (84:10) says that one day in God’s house is more than a thousand elsewhere.
We are the new Martha and Mary. Like them, we often face a lot of things seeking our attention in various ways. Like in their situation, only one is most important amid others; are we choosing the better part?
As we continue to reflect on the narrative of choices of Abraham, Martha, and Mary, let us keep in mind that the good things around us should not distract you from better things. We should also aim at the best beyond the better part, which would be our final union with God in heaven after our pilgrimage on earth. God bless you and have a wonderful week ahead.