Our sympathy is with Martha. It might seem then that Jesus was unfair o her. After all, the Gospel places great emphasis on deeds. Yet here he raises, not the doer, but the one who sits and listens. It wasn’t that Jesus didn’t appreciate what Martha was doing. Nor was he scolding her. What comes across is his concern for her.
He was making a point for the benefit of people like Martha, who are essentially generous people but over-anxious about getting things done. It’s not simply that she was busy, but that she was too busy. Always anxious and worried, she was the slave of her duties.
Our daily lives are made up of a round of chores and duties which fall into two categories: the urgent, and the essential. Many of the things we do could be said to be urgent, but only a few are truly essential. We have to distinguish between the two. Like Martha, we tend to give priority to the urgent. The essential, the one thing necessary, gets postponed until later, when, if it is done at all, it is done hurriedly and badly.
How can we tell what our priorities are? The best way to recognize our actual priorities is to reflect on our normal behavior. What do we give most time to? What gets most of our energy? These are our priorities in fact. It may take a tragedy or an emergency to put things into perspective for us, and to remind us of what really matters.
It’s the easiest thing in the world to get one’s priorities wrong.
Mary got her priorities right – she dropped everything and listened to the words of Jesus. Many people would be able to identify more with Martha – busy about many things, yet constantly short of time. We need to look beyond the daily chores and urgencies. We need to devote time to ourselves. Above all, we need time for reflection. The American psychotherapist and writer, Thomas Moore, says:
There is no doubt but that some people could spare themselves the expense and trouble of psychotherapy simply by giving themselves a few minutes each day for quiet reflection. This simple act would provide what is missing in their lives – a period of non-doing that is essential nourishment to the soul.
If we could spend some quiet time with God our lives would be calmer, less driven by anxiety and worry, and deeper and richer. In fact, everything would benefit – our spiritual life, our relationships, even our work. Action and contemplation are not meant to be contrasted. Both are necessary, and have to be integrated into life.