Talk about being put in your place! “Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” Poor Martha. This begs the question from these words of Jesus, “What is the better part? What does the better part look like, and what doesn’t it look like? What is the part that Jesus recognizes as being better for Mary rather than the Tasmanian Devil dance that Martha is doing around the house?
It’s a somewhat funny, instructive contrast between the 2 sisters; one sitting at the feet of the Lord, looking up at the face of Jesus. The other acting like the Tasmanian Devil running circles around both Jesus and Mary. I’m sure we all know which one we would prefer, knowing also there are times when being a little of both is a good balance in life and in our faith.
What is the better part?
First, the better part is possessing the virtue of prudence as part of our repertoire of virtues. Prudence being good judgment as connected to our faith in Christ. What are the things we may say or do in a given situation, or what do we avoid? Mary’s good judgment to sit down and spend time with the Lord by way of focusing her entire attention on Jesus is a prudent decision at the time.
Now, if Jesus arrived at the house of Mary and Martha (it sounds like Lazarus is away on vacation) and he planned on staying there for a few days, an extended period of time, and the entire time that Jesus was there, all Mary did was sit at his feet, then that wouldn’t be very prudent. It probably would have caused Jesus to say, “Mary, how about a little space. And stop staring at me!”
But since our Lord was most likely there for just a short while, maybe an afternoon, before he moved on to the next town or village, with Mary spending her time in rapt attention toward the Master, then it’s proper to say she spent her time very well. She was prudent. Her posture is one of prayer. Sitting at the feet of Jesus, and spending a few hours in prayer in the presence of the Lord is good balance.
Spending no time in the presence of the Lord in prayer, or not having a prayer life, is unbalanced for any professed Christian. There’s no feeding the spirit and soul. So when the soul becomes thirsty and hungry, it turns to the world for answers rather than our faith.
The opposite of that, spending three straight days in prayer without interruption, is also unbalanced. We are not to be obsessed with God. Mary’s posture and Mary’s decision to sit at the feet of her Lord is prudent because Jesus is not hanging around for very long. He has other work to do.
So be prudent with your faith in him. Seek that healthy, timely balance that deepens our relationship with Christ and with one another over a lifetime.
And second, the better part that Mary chooses over Martha is the blessing of a holy, peaceful relationship with the Visitor from heaven. Mary’s better part of spending time with Jesus establishes a holy relationship with him. This is something we really need to reflect upon at different times, especially in a fast-paced world, and not only at the end of our lives. Is our relationship with Christ a holy relationship? Since we have no capacity to create any degree of holiness for ourselves, a prudent question would be, “Are we inviting God’s holiness to transform our thinking, our actions and decisions, our way of relating with our neighbor?”
Martha is so busy and downright confused in her maniacal work habits that she has little time to ground herself in God’s desire to make her holy. Holiness takes a lot of hard work. But not the sort of hard work Martha is performing. She has the energy to become holy. But it’s misdirected energy. We see this in politics all the time.
Jesus says to her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.” I think Jesus would have liked to have said, “Martha, Martha, stop hanging out with the Tasmanian Devil so much! Take a chill pill, Martha! Slow down, Martha…You’re not at the Indianapolis 500!” Instead, the Lord was kind to her.
So, there’s a couple things to ponder this week as connected to Christ our Savior. Is there a good, healthy balance in our relationship with the Lord? Are we prudent in how we spend time with him, and how we teach our children about him? Because if we’re balanced with God, we’re going to be balanced with the people we encounter each day. If we’re unbalanced with God, either no time or little time spent in prayer, or being obsessed with God, then we will be unbalanced with the people we encounter each day. We will be Martha in this Gospel; the Tasmanian Devil.
And second, is our relationship with God a holy one? It doesn’t have to be perfect on our part, because there are times when we will face the worst that life will bring. But are we open to God’s holiness building up our spirits, even in the midst of struggle. Pray for such holiness. It prepares us for the day of sitting before Christ in the Kingdom that never ends.