July 21, 2019


The Better Part

The story of Jesus’ visit with Martha and Mary is one of my favorite bible stories. I think because it’s so easy to relate to Martha and Mary. Who hasn’t experienced Martha’s frustration and anxiety at some point or heard Jesus telling us to just be still? And I’m always so inspired by the fact that Martha feels so comfortable in her relationship with Jesus that she actually tells him what to do: “You tell my sister to come and help me!”

Being more like Martha myself, I often wonder why is it that Mary has chosen the “better part”? Aren’t we all called to serve? Isn’t that what discipleship and ministry are all about? Martha was busy about the ministry of hospitality. Yet she feels frustrated and irritated in her ministry. “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?” To serve others, especially Jesus or for the love of God should be a joy, not a burden.

Jesus tells her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing.” In Greek, the word “serve” is translated “diakonian” which means deacon or minister. How often in our ministries do we get so caught up in the work that we miss the point or the prayerfulness or the joy of that ministry? The challenge for Martha is not that she is busy serving and providing hospitality, but that she is worried and distracted.

“She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.” Mary is truly present with God; that’s why she has chosen the “better part”. Whereas Martha is completely distracted. She is not present at all. It’s her distraction not her serving that causes her to miss the “better part”. So how do we not worry and become anxious and distracted? Well…we have to recognize God’s presence; we have to try to know it in all things. There is holiness in our ordinary situations. When like Martha, we feel anxious or distracted, invite God in through prayer. William S. Barry, S.J. in his book Praying the Truth says, “whether we are aware of it or not, we are always in God’s presence no matter what we are doing. All that is required (for prayer) is to be conscious of God’s presence in whatever activity we are engaged.” And then like Mary, listen.

I’m a Lector and an Extraordinary Minister. Right from the beginning I’ve always been very joyful and prayerful in my ministry as a Lector. But when I first became an Extraordinary Minister, I was totally stressed out—I used to get so anxious that I don’t think I even prayed during the Mass. I couldn’t even tell you why I was so anxious, but I was definitely not serving with joy and I don’t believe that I was fully present to the Lord. Over time through prayer and as I chose to sit and listen like Mary, I began to feel the true joy that comes with serving as an Extraordinary Minister. That’s the “better part”.

The good news is that the next time we read about Martha in the Gospel of John at the raising of her brother Lazarus, she is fully present to the Lord. When Martha replies to Jesus, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God…” she has clearly chosen the “better part”.

Donna Scancarella

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