The gospel story of Mary and Martha always used to make me angry. In the story, Jesus visits his friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Martha is busy running around making a meal for them all while Mary sits at the feet of Jesus and listens to him. At one point Martha, exasperated, asks Jesus to tell Mary to get off her tush and help her. Jesus defends Mary, claiming, “Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:42)
I always felt frustrated for poor Martha when this story was read at Sunday Mass. Here she was working her fingers to the bone while Mary was sitting around being a kind of Jesus groupie. Who wouldn’t be resentful? After all, Jesus’ dinner wasn’t going to make itself!
You see, my name may be “Mary,” but I am a “Martha” at heart: always busy, always overburdened by responsibilities and to-do lists. There have been many times in my 27-year marriage that I have resented my husband’s sitting on the couch watching TV while I cooked, did dishes, and attended to the kids. The everyday chores of life sometimes make me tired and cranky.
But I was missing the point of that gospel story of Mary and Martha. Jesus’ point was that although we may have cares and responsibilities, the most important thing in life is really to stop and listen. So many times I have been too busy to pay full attention to my kids, for instance. What mother hasn’t answered the absent-minded, “Mm hmm,” to her children as she only pays half attention to their verbal ramblings?
And it’s not just chores that keep us from the truly important things in life. We fill up our minutes and hours with television, Facebook, the news etc. and don’t nurture our relationships or our inner life. We don’t take the time to meditate or pray.
The story of Mary and Martha urges us to take that time, to stop and breathe and focus on what is truly important in our lives: God, our families, goodness and love. It’s a worthwhile endeavor to try becoming more of a “Mary,” and it’s one I am making the effort on in my daily life. I plan on “choosing the better part” and becoming more closely the person I am meant to be.