Martha, Mary and the One Thing Needed

I have often pondered the story of Martha and Mary. I tend to side with Martha. Put in contemporary terms, Martha and Mary are sisters who keep house for their brother, Lazarus. Lazarus brings home his charismatic friend, Jesus, and a crowd of hangers on, at least a dozen of them. No doubt Lazarus whispers to his sisters, 'Rustle us up a feed will you? The Master has been all over the district preaching and we're famished.'

Being a good woman who knows her role in Ancient Times, Martha builds up the fire and mixes up some bread dough while wondering what on earth they can have with it. She looks around for Mary to ask her to fetch some vegetables and sure enough, she's sitting at the feet of this man, hanging on his every word. So like Mary to always catch the eye of the men. Without her big sister (because surely Martha is the eldest) to watch out for her, making sure her veil covers her hair properly and so on, who knows what would happen?

Naturally she tries to be discreet but Jesus hears her sharp hiss at Mary. So she asks outright: 'Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.'

Does Jesus send Mary to do her duty and help her sister? He does not! Instead he says, 'Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.' (Luke: 10, 40-42).

What I used to wonder is, did they eat the meal Martha prepared and were they grateful? Or did they think that every woman was at liberty to sit down at the drop of a head cloth and listen to whomever had a new vision to promote? Who down the ages have kept the babies bathed and their families fed if it not the women, Martha-like, doing their duty?

Lately, however, I have to admit the story has a fair point. We all need to take time for our spiritual growth. New ideas, wise teaching and good conversation have their part to play in nuruturing that growth. True, the loving kindness of caring for others, and the discipline of completing a task dutifully, are spiritual acts, but if envy and resentment are creeping in, it is probably a sign that it is time to sit at the feet of the teacher.

I recently had this conversation with a young mother. She responded with a laugh, recognising that she too, in a busy life which involved caring for her family and going to work, craved time for that 'one thing needed.'