The Sense and Sensibility of Martha and Mary

Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.  Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?  Tell her to help me.”  The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” LK 10:38-42

I always wished that I had a more active life. This world tends to value action over contemplation. It’s easy to see why. When we take action, we will see the results of our actions immediately. However, like a lot of people, I take my own talents and gifts for granted. Not everyone has the time or the means to be out there doing all the things written in Matthew 25, but it doesn’t mean that we should limit ourselves either or try to measure our worth by how much we do. Our true value isn’t measured by our accomplishments. What makes our actions matter is how much love we put in each thing that we do.

There are many saints who worked humble jobs. Some were doorkeepers. Others were slaves or servants. And not all saints went into religious life, either. There’s a list of saints who were lifelong laypeople. What I love about the saints is that each one is unique. They were all human beings first and we can find our inspiration from them. We may not accomplish great things, but we can, as Mother Teresa always said, “do small things with great love.”

This doesn’t mean that Saint Martha’s actions weren’t for nothing. What she did wrong was that she was anxious and worried about many things, as Jesus said. She was too preoccupied with serving Jesus that she didn’t spend any time just being with Jesus. Sometimes, the best thing we can do for a person is just sit there and listen. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens has this whole chapter entitled “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.” (Thank you, Saint Francis.) When we truly listen with someone, we try to get to the core of what’s really bothering them or at the very least just give them time and let them know we really understand them and value their time.

It’s also good to listen before taking action. We often need to think things through or contemplate our actions before we proceed with actually doing them. Life is a balance of both contemplation and action. We can’t get so caught up in what we do that we lose track of what drives us and yet we can’t always think about something and not do anything about it.

So what exactly is the moral of the story for Martha and Mary? Hospitality consists of both spending time with someone and doing things for them. Don’t let yourself get caught up in anxieties and worries.

In these troubled times, I think we all need some time to contemplate about this world. Instead of retaliating with violence, I hope we can all contemplate about how we can bring more peaceful solutions to the things going on.

For now, I keep on saying “Lord have mercy,” because we are all in need of it.

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