You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.
Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord's brother. In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; they only heard it said, "The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy." And they glorified God because of me.
O Lord, you search me and you know me,
you know my resting and my rising,
you discern my purpose from afar.
You mark when I walk or lie down,
all my ways lie open to you. (R./)
For it was you who created my being,
knit me together in my mother's womb.
I thank you for the wonder of my being,
for the wonders of all your creation. (R./)
Already you knew my soul,
my body held no secret from you,
when I was being fashioned in secret
and moulded in the depths of the earth. (R./)
Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."
While zeal and good intentions can drive one to over-activity, it is clear that good works are required from followers of Christ. We must try to keep a healthy balance between contemplation and action, for each of us reflects aspects of Martha and Mary, Paul and Peter. Each of them is an iconic example for us, on the principle that "everything in the Scriptures was written for our instruction" (Rom 15:4).
In Galatians Paul appears as a man of action, always prepared to spread his special vision of the Christian faith. His mission was not to spend his life in contemplative prayer but rather to "spread among the gentiles the good news of Jesus." Martha, too, fits the pattern of many good, active people who liked to keep themselves busy. She is like others in the Gospel story who liked to provide meals for people, including Simon Peter's mother-in-law (Lk 4:39) the father of the prodigal son (Lk 15:22-24), and Zacchaeus the tax collector (Lk 19:5-6). Silent contemplation is the exception, not the rule, in the Old and New Testament.
Still, the more contemplative spirit also emerges as also a valid option when Jesus says, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and upset about many things; one thing only is required. Mary has chosen the better portion." It is not good to be so busy that it makes us "anxious and upset." The "better portion," praised by Jesus does not cancel the value of good works and hospitality. It just asks that we find space for direction and wisdom, love and concern. We need the blend of the spirit of both Martha and Mary.
Jesus was often glad of the hospitality offered to him by others. But when Martha welcomed him to her house it seems that the visit caused her more anxiety than joy. So the Lord said 'Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things.'
It's possible to turn a pleasure into a chore if we are too perfectionist. Martha's sister Mary seems the more retiring of the two, sitting quietly in the background. Yet, this quieter sister sensed how Jesus wanted to be welcomed. Rather than getting into a flutter of activity like Martha, she offered a listening ear, sitting at his feet and taking in his every word.
Jesus appreciated that special kind of welcome. It is often the way in Luke's gospel that the more marginal people are the ones who respond best to the message. On this occasion, Martha had something to learn from her sister Mary, as we all do. Martha was too anxious to feed Jesus, when, really it was he who wanted to nourish her with his word. What he wants from us sometimes is just to sit and listen, letting him feed us with his word and his very presence.