Martha or Mary? A look at Sunday’s Gospel

In this weekend’s Gospel reading, Jesus visits the home of his friends Martha and Mary. Martha runs around preparing food and serving our Lord while her sister sits at his feet listening to him. Martha gets frustrated with the work she is doing and asks that Jesus tell Mary to help her with the serving. Jesus’ response is somewhat surprising:

“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.”

This can be somewhat confusing, because it seems that Martha is doing the right thing with her hospitality. “When someone visits the home, there’s an obligation to provide for them. … Culturally, there’s rules or norms or mores about hospitality. You drop what you do, you give them something to eat, you give them something to drink, and you pay attention to them,” explains Fr. Daniel Schuster, priest of the Diocese of Green Bay.

While Martha makes herself busy tending to her visitor’s needs, Mary chooses to sit with Jesus. “Martha gets kind of upset here and … she doesn’t talk to her sister, she goes right to Jesus and says, ‘Don’t you care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?’ She was burdened with many things … which is kind of important because when Jesus points to Mary as choosing the better part, he says, ‘There is need of only one thing.’ So we’ve got this contrast between them—many things that we do and go on in our mind and our heart, kind of a scatteredness, a tizzy, an obligation, a ritual, contrasted with one thing and a choice for something that’s better than anything that there is,” says Fr. Schuster.

It’s a reminder of what our priority should be in life. “One of the reasons that the Gospel is there is to challenge us with that … rather than the things that we do and the way we fill the time and the way that we try to please others, we might want to ask Jesus, what would you like of me?”

“Along the way, we each have to make a choice. … There is nothing and no one more important than God,” says Fr. Schuster.

Listen to the full podcast for an in-depth look at Sunday’s Gospel from The Inner Life: