“Now as they went on their way, he 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.’” Luke 10:38-42
This wonderful little passage is one I’ve often recalled from Sunday School days. I had a favorite aunt named, appropriately, Martha, who in her Edwardian fashion seemed to be constantly bustling from one task to another. “Busy hands are happy hands” was her mantra. In my own life I have tried to emulate Martha rather than Mary, thinking along the same lines. To be constantly busy and productive was the wholesome, righteous way to live. Mary, lolling at the Master’s feet merely listening, to be brushed aside.
The Cloud of Unknowing was written by a nameless author in the 14th Century as a guide for contemplation. The writer addresses this passage in a manner quite different from my thinking or my Aunt Martha’s. Allegorically, one sister represents contemplation and the other, action/activity. In the writer’s consideration, being active is good, contemplation is better — but a combination of the two is best. Best, if one emphasizes the question: what is it that Christ offers?
Being busy has its place, but listening and reflecting on what the Lord teaches gives life richness beyond the material rewards of tasks accomplished.
Martha’s enterprise is not to be scorned, but Mary’s attentiveness has the greater value.
– Chris Rogers