You have to love today’s gospel passage. It is so human, so real. We can all relate to it in so many different ways.
Martha’s question is not exactly a plea for help. She has been working hard. She is tired, exhausted. Moreover she sees her sister sitting there doing (apparently) nothing. Martha’s expression is more of an accusation rather than a question, addressed to her sister Mary, rather than to Jesus. It is this sister that doesn’t seem to care at all!
Jesus tries to help Martha understand the reason why he is there in the first place. It does not matter whether the house is perfectly in order or the meal is impeccably presented. He is there first and foremost to be with them. Rather than food or perfection, Jesus longs for presence, for relationships, for friendship. “You are worried and distracted by many things,” he tells Martha. “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Jesus does not rebuke Martha for wanting to get things done. Her problem lies in worrying and being distracted. Work, getting the house in order, making sure that everything is up to scratch, become for her things that distract her from what is really important.
Jesus longs for human relations. This is another very human element in this story, and yet it’s simultaneously so divine! Jesus feels the need of being with friends—friends who become disciples. Because Mary’s sitting at the Lord’s feet is noting but a sign of discipleship, someone who listens attentively to the master, always ready to learn and then to follow.
Jesus calls Martha’s name, twice. It’s a strong invitation for her to enter into the mind of Jesus and see what really matters. I can imagine Jesus inviting us in the same way: calling us by name, helping us understand what is really important in life. It’s an invitation to get our priorities right. Perhaps sometimes we tend to do too many things for Jesus. Things that may be good, important and praiseworthy. But how is my relationship with Jesus? If I try to do things for Jesus when my relationship with him is not nurtured, I might be struggling in vain. Perhaps I might do a lot of work for my parish, or my group, I might be working hard to set others on the right path, trying to convert others, trying to persuade relatives and friends, children and grandchildren to go to Church and do the right thing. It is only when I allow Jesus to have a real place in my heart that my actions can give fruit. Because welcoming the Lord is always an act which gives fruit.
We see this in today’s first reading, which speaks about Abraham’s act of hospitality towards the visiting strangers. Hidden in those three strangers is Abraham’s God, and the result of that hospitality is the birth of Abraham’s child, which went against all human logic.
In the recent film “Mary Magdalene” (whether she is the same Mary, sister of Martha, is something we won’t discuss today!), the relationship between Jesus and Mary begins with a beautiful dialogue:
"What is it you long for?" Jesus asks.
"To know God, " Mary replies.
"And yet you've felt God's presence," Jesus observes.
"Sometimes in stillness," Mary replies.
May we always be able to find those moments of stillness where we can experience God’s fruitful presence in our lives.