The Better Part
Reflection on Lk. 10:38-42
Martha stirs the pot and runs through her checklist. “Let’s see…the vegetables are almost ready, the bread is done, the figs are set out, the lamb needs a few more minutes, the wine…oh yes, I need to pull out another jar. Where is Mary? I could really use her help.” With that she sticks her head in the doorway of the house. There her sister is, absorbed in Jesus’ words. There is no time for this; dinner is almost ready! Exasperated, Martha appeals to Jesus, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me!”
But Jesus will not send Mary away, and He seeks to calm Martha’s fretfulness. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.”
I sympathize with Martha. After all, she is doing a good thing by inviting Jesus into her home and serving Him. How easy it is to be flustered when burdened with tasks and time pressure and the desire to do things well. The problem is she is distracted by the tasks and has lost sight of the One for Whom she is doing all of this.
I can imagine Jesus saying, “Martha, come join us for a few minutes.”
Perhaps she protests, “The food will burn.”
“Well, then, take it off the fire for a bit. Supper will wait.”
According to a number of saints and spiritual writers, Martha and Mary both signify us. There are times to be busy with serving and times to pray. It is a balancing act, in a way, to give time to both. Yet, clearly, prayer is the better part; it must be given priority and not short-changed.
I don’t know about you, but when Masses resumed again I thought I would be attentive as never before. As the weeks have gone on and the schedule has filled up again, I have found myself…distracted during Mass. Primarily I am distracted by the things I need to do. Yes, these tasks are to be done in the service of the Lord, but it hardly need be said that, in this moment of the re-presentation of Jesus’ sacrifice on the altar, my focus should be on Him, not on what I will do for Him later. I have the opportunity, here, to choose Mary’s part. To be present to what the Lord has done for me and receptive to what He freely offers me.
So what do I do? Rather than growing frustrated with myself, I gently put aside my concerns—laying them at the feet of Jesus. Then I can turn my gaze back to Him, choosing the better part. And if I need to do this again and again, I do. Later I will return to my tasks, having received (hopefully with a wide-open heart) what the Lord has given and better able to give His love to others.
We actually never need leave Jesus, whether we sit at His feet in prayer or work and serve in all our daily tasks. We can be with Him always. This is what He invited Mary and Martha into, and He extends the invitation to each of us as well. Let us, then, do our best to always choose the better part—life with Jesus.
“Abide in me, and I in you” (Jn. 15:4).
Sr. Cecilia Francis, CFR