Make time for the ‘better part’
By Jacqui-Theresa Leiba
The story of Martha and Mary in Luke’s gospel is often cited in speaking of the active and contemplative life. This is one way of understanding the story. Divine love and the desire for human justice is also revealed in the story.
Martha welcomes the Lord into her house. A welcoming prayer at the beginning of each day can be a beautiful way to welcome the presence of the Lord into our hearts and homes. True and meaningful prayer comes from a heart of devotion (Mary) and lack of mindless distraction (Martha).
Martha and Mary are the poster children for hospitality in action. Though different, they both exercise the call to service through hospitality. Mary however, in her vocation to attentive and heartful listening, empties herself of distractions as she is fed by the Lord in this act of loving devotion.
Martha on the other hand, lacks fulfilment in her vocation. Some time spent in the Lord’s presence can indeed be enriching for Martha types, who would then be able to go about serving with greater joy and gratitude.
We may recall the times in our own lives when we felt over-burdened by too many things and experienced negative emotions and burn-out. It is in these times that we might have been tempted, like Martha, to implore the Lord to seek justice in the situation we had created by our own choices. This is a trap that can lead to misery and complaining.
Service loses its meaning if the cart (action) is put before the horse (prayer). If done from a place of sincere prayer, acts of loving service create within the believer, a well-spring of joy and gratitude to God. There is little to “worry and fret” about as the flow of grace remains unbroken and love becomes the motive for action.
Martha may be considered as an archetype for individuals, groups and institutions that seek justice when there is perceived wrongdoing. When persons are in pain, feelings of blame, shame and being victimised can cloud one’s judgment, produce negative emotions and lead to scapegoating tendencies. This is the kind of mind that seeks justice on human terms and demands restitution.
In seeking this course of human justice, God’s way of love and mercy is a distant heaven. In the desire for reprisal, no thought is given to seeking God’s face quietly and with a sincere heart in the situation. Actions are often further punitive, shutting down the possibility of reconciliation and further poisoning minds and hearts. This vicious cycle can lead families, groups, institutions, and nations down the road to destruction, further denying true justice for all concerned.
What is the “better part” Mary has chosen? Those of us old enough might remember the question and answer in the second question of the Penny Catechism: “Why did God make me?” Answer: “God made me to know him, to love him and to serve him in this world, and to be happy forever with him in the next.”
This brings a question for reflection: “Can I truly love and serve a God I do not know?”
Lord, help me to choose the “better part”; to sit humbly at Your feet; to listen to You. I desire to know You and love You so that my acts of service, though small, will become acts of love.
Jacqui-Theresa Leiba is a Catholic primary school teacher and parishioner of St Patrick’s RC Church, Newtown.