The two sisters could not be more different personalities: Martha, the practical, no-nonsense housekeeper, and Mary, the romantic “free spirit” who is captivated by the charismatic Jesus. For Martha, there are tasks to be completed, beds to be made, meals to be cooked and served; for Mary, nothing else matters because Jesus is in their midst. It’s easy to understand the tension between these two very different women.
But, often, Martha and Mary can be the same person. There is something of both Martha and Mary within each one of us — and the tension between the two is just as real. Our “Martha” side is consumed with the necessary responsibilities of our careers, homes, mortgages, college tuition; the things-to-do list that is never completed, the calendar that is always full, the deadlines that always loom — but our “Mary” side seeks something more meaningful and satisfying in our lives. The “Mary” within us longs to spend more time with our children, longs to be able to give more of ourselves to causes we believe in, longs to turn off the world and be at peace with God, ourselves and other.
There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to possess the “better part.”
“The better part” is neither what is left over when everything else is done nor the few minutes left over at the end of another busy day. We have to consciously choose and seek out “the better part,” but, like Martha, we can become so focused on and distracted by the business and “busy-ness” of our endless responsibilities as spouses, parents, professionals and neighbours that we become anesthetized to feeling and experiencing “the better part.” Jesus invites each one of us to make a place in our lives for Mary’s “better part”: welcoming the joy and love of family and friends that is the presence of God.