The Better Part

Nearly everyone I talk with these days agrees with me: The summer is flying by, in part because our families are so busy.

A friend has an acronym for BUSY: Burdened Under Satan’s Yoke. We may object that the numerous things we are doing are not evil, but are good and perhaps even important. But we would do well to ask ourselves, are they necessary?

Necessity is a high bar, when you think about it. As animals, we have very few absolute needs: food, water, shelter, and the like. As humans, made in God’s image, we have a few more: freedom, community, love. Meeting these needs for ourselves and our families requires effort on our part—but for the person of faith, there is a hierarchy: God, spouse, children, everyone else, everything else.

Which of these things are we spending time on these days, and in what order?

My family and I are recently back from a camping trip to Glacier National Park and the Black Hills. For the first several days, I was nearly overwhelmed by the busy-ness of tenting, of reconnecting and traveling with old friends, of managing a young Airedale in a campground full of strange dogs and people, of northern Montana weather that changes from sunny summer to wet autumn multiples times a day. I found myself neglecting prayer and nearly missing the wonder of creation on all sides because I was so worried about keeping the tent dry, the dog content, and the plan planned.

I saw my wife, kids, and friends enjoying each other’s company. If I asked for help, they helped without complaint (mostly), but I always felt like I was interrupting. At times I was irritated I had to ask, and I was jealous that I was working “so hard” while they were relaxing and enjoying themselves.

Aside from an occasional grumpy comment to my bride, all this unfolded inside of me. I was in full-fledged Martha mode.

You know the story:

As they continued their journey he 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” (Luke 10:38-42).

When we returned home, we flipped our parish calendar to July. Lo and behold, the image for the month was Polish artist Henryk Siemiradzki’s painting Christ with Martha and Maria.

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What do you see? So peaceful and pleasant was the image of Mary listening contentedly at the feet of Jesus that I took me a moment to see Martha looking on jealously from the shadows. Jesus’ words cut to the heart of the matter: “[Y]ou 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.”

Mary has chosen…and so have we.

The good news is, that choice is not binding. Moment to moment, we can choose Christ and peace, joy and wonder. We can let go of many things and embrace the One.

I am back to the busy-ness of home and work life, with so much to do; so many projects, commitments, priorities and desires, and seemingly so little time. On Wednesday, feeling overwhelmed and behind, I sat down at my desk to proof the weekend’s bulletin. Can you guess this Sunday’s Gospel?

“Martha, Martha…”

2 thoughts on “The Better Part

  1. I recently read a reflection on this gospel that got me to thinking. She mentioned that people often describe themselves as either Martha or Mary, and that we simply see Martha in a negative way. I find that Martha is not acting poorly in her works, she fails to see the beauty in her work and allows that to be twisted. Her inability to see her own value and let that of Mary’s actions be she gets jealous. Don’t we all get worked up and a bit jealous when we see someone else at the feet of Jesus while we are toiling? Yet is it not a blessing to be able to take up that cross and carry it. Christ is with us always, shouldn’t we be more attentive to our work and offer that work joyfully to the Lord? We sometimes put Mary up as the model and yet I think that Martha may be as richly blessed and doesn’t know it. Just my thoughts..
    A humble deciple.

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  2. Pingback: The Phantom Cross, or ‘It’s Not About You’ | Archangel Stomp

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