It seems to me that there was a certain competition between Martha and Mary.
Martha was the one who was the doer— always organized, always ready to take on the project, always at the ready to get something done.
Mary was not of that temperament. She was quieter, calmer, more reflective.
When Jesus came, each sister chose that at which she excelled. Martha got organized; Mary listened at the feet of Jesus. Even if his comments don’t especially show it, I think that Jesus was grateful for the ministrations of care and concern that Martha provided. But He was also mindful that the better part was to listen, to curl up at His feet, and to pay attention to the message of the Gospel.
Well, where we would try to make it a matter of either one or the other, actually both things are needful.
Where the soul is only attentive to the action and organization, and tyranny of pragmatism, the person eventually pays a price. That price is burnout, discouragement, lack of enthusiasm and energy. Unlike Sisyphus, we eventually tire from always rolling the boulder up the hill.
The burnout, fatigue, lack of vision, and absence of hope that are so much a part of our times is essentially a spiritual problem. If we learned to sit at the feet of Jesus we would have energy enough, vision enough, hope enough.
That’s why I’ve come to appreciate the Daily Office over these past several years— while it may seem like wasting time, it is important for me to take the time during all that busy-ness to sit at the feet of Jesus, to listen and to have a sense of renewal.
Of course, it can be that one gets so lost in the wonder of the spiritual life that one forgets that sitting at the feet of Jesus will ultimately cause us to do something in his name. It is easy to be lulled into a sense— which is why some of these mega-churches are so popular these days— that all one has to do is show up, feel pious and spiritual, and be entertained for the week.
But Mary cannot sit at the feet of Jesus forever— and if she had chosen to do so, then a moment would have come when He would have had to compel her to be about mission and ministry.
Our lives of prayer are to energize ourselves for mission; they are not intended to be some kind nepenthe quaffed that we might be lost in the wonder of the lint in our navels!
Some of us may need to be a little more like Mary. But some of us need to be a little more like Martha. The challenge is to have a balance between doing and being, serving in Jesus’ name and being refreshed for ministry and service in Jesus’ Name.