Few Gospel readings have the ability to get peoples’ dander up like the story of Martha and Mary. We all seem to commiserate with Martha, wanting Mary to help with the work. We respect work; we value work. This can lead us to feel that Jesus is condemning our strong work ethic.
It is important to note how Jesus addresses Martha in his gentle correction. He does not devalue her work, nor deny the necessity of caring for their bodily needs. What Jesus does say is: “You are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing.” Martha might be worrying about the social effects of Jesus’ visit, or how He might be critiquing her cooking, or any of a myriad of other worldly concerns. It is the worry that Jesus rebukes, not the work. Martha could be offering her service in a spirit of peace and joy, exulting in the gift of having Jesus in her home; instead she wants Jesus to be her enforcer, bringing her sister’s behavior under her control. Martha seems to be trying to make Jesus enforce her will, instead of making herself obedient to Him. Mary has chosen to put herself at Jesus’ feet, not Martha’s. This was clearly the correct choice for her; it also serves as a reminder for us to make room in our busy lives to sit at the feet of our Divine Master and learn from Him.
Work is good. Jesus affirms this time and again. But if our work becomes such a concern that we take our eyes off of Jesus, our highest priority, then that work becomes an idol. May we rightly subject ourselves to God, in imitation of Christ Jesus, and order our work and leisure to His glory.