In this final week of Advent, we can be overwhelmed by ‘busyness’ as we make our final preparations to celebrate Christmas. We can feel stressed and anxious, and our spiritual lives can be neglected as we become too immersed in doing the practical. Even though our intentions are well-meant, we can lose sight of the fact that God needs to be at the centre of all this. Fr Michael Winstanley offers some reflections on the balance between activity and listening to the Lord, by considering busy Martha.
Luke 10: 38-42 - Martha and Mary
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’
Martha has a problem. The pressure of hospitality, as she understands it, prevents her from listening, which she doubtless would have appreciated and enjoyed. She is distracted by all the serving. The verb means pulled or dragged away. There is too much to do. She probably feels rather peeved that she has been left to do everything herself and maybe thinks her sister is being rather selfish.
There are two aspects to discipleship: there is service and kindness and practical living; and there is listening to Jesus, hearing the word of the Lord. As Caird puts it so well, ‘Martha has not yet learned that unselfishness, service, and even sacrifice can be spoiled by self-concern and self-pity, that good works which are not self-forgetful can become a misery to the doer and a tyranny to others.’
‘Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.’ … The good or better part, portion or dish (a little wordplay is evident here), the thing which is most essential, the right choice, is to make space for Jesus, and to listen. Such listening shapes and enlivens our active caring. Johnson writes that the one thing necessary for hospitality is attention to the guest. ‘If the guest is a prophet, the appropriate reception is listening to God’s word’. In the scale of values, it is listening to the word which has priority.
When there is a clash of priorities, it tends to be prayer which is jettisoned. Without times of prayer in which we listen to God’s love … we run the risk of building our own kingdoms rather than that of Jesus.
We can reflect on a typical day or week and examine the rhythm of our lives, our integration of prayer and action. … We could attempt to wear the sandals of Martha, then of Mary, and finally of Jesus in the scene in their house, and try to enter into their feelings.
References: GB Caird, St Luke, Pelican, London 1963 p150
LT Johnson,The Gospel of Luke, Collegeville, The Liturgical press 1991 p175
From: Don Bosco’s Gospel Way, Michael T Winstanley SDB pp 66-68