Before performing a baptism, the priest approached the young father and said solemnly, “Baptism is a serious step. Are you prepared for it?”
“I think so,” the man replied. “My wife has made appetizers and we have a caterer coming to provide plenty of cookies and cakes for all of our guests.”
“I don’t mean that,” the priest responded. “I mean, are you prepared spiritually?”
“Oh, sure,” came the reply. “I have got a keg of beer and a case of whiskey, and a music band to play at the party. We will have good time.”
This young dad misses the Only One Thing needed at the baptism of his child: To have faith in Jesus Christ! Jesus is telling Martha, “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 10:40-42).
How many of you carry your cell phones with you to church? I don’t know what to say to people who step out during Mass in order to answer the phone. When I celebrate the Mass on Sunday, I either turn off my phone or leave it at the house. God will take care of all other businesses when I am spending time with him and with you. I want to devote my attention to the Lord and to you.
A woman told me about her anger and frustration at others at her church. She said,
“I wanted to stay in the church to pray after Mass. The priest told me I could do so. But when I was praying in the church, the parish secretary came and asked me why I was in there; I told her that father said I could stay to pray. Then she told me that I should get more involved and participating in other services and activities at the church. Father, all I wanted to do is to be like Mary choosing to sit at the feet of the Lord to pray.” She was more angry and frustrated when two other ladies came in later to decorate the church. She said, “They made so much noise to distract me from my prayer. They told me the same thing that I should be more involved. Father, praying is also important. People are not taking time to pray.”
I asked her, “Are you sure Jesus wanted you to take that much time every day to pray in your church? I believe that if you wanted to be like Mary, you should not be angry at those ladies. Mary was not angry at her sister. She just stayed quiet and listen to the Lord’s; because she knew that was what Jesus wanted her to do. She was not angry with her sister’s frustration.”
I do not feel satisfied with the interpretation that Martha stands for active life and Mary stands for contemplative life. It is also not correct to say that contemplative life is superior to the active life because Jesus says, “Mary has chosen the better part.” When Jesus said, “Mary has chosen the better part” he just looked at the situation and made his comment on their choices of action at the moment. Martha was the older sister. She was the host. Preparing a meal for Jesus and his twelve companions would not be an easy task. She wanted Jesus and his disciples to have a good time. Her frustration at her sister seemed to be justified. But Jesus disagreed. “Mary has chosen the better part.” The better part here does not mean contemplative life style. The better part here means Mary understood what was important to Jesus at the moment.
A king questioned every scholar and sage who came to his court. “Which is the best service and which is the best time to render it?”
He could get no answer that satisfied him. One day while pursuing the forces of a rival king, he got separated from his army in the thick forest. He rode a long way, exhausted and hungry, until he reached a hermitage. There an old monk received him warmly and offered him a cup of cool water.
After taking some rest in the monk’s bed, the king asked, “Which is the best service?”
The monk said, “Giving a thirsty man a cup of water.”
“And which is the best time to render it?” The King asked.
The monk replied, “When he comes far and lonely, looking for some place he can get it.”
(Paul J. Wharton, Stories and Parables for Preachers and Teachers, p. 27).
Mary understood Jesus’ need and Martha did not. Martha only saw the ordinary immediate needs. Jesus and his disciples came by to visit; and she needed to feed them. She wanted them to have a good meal before sending them on their way again. What Jesus had in mind, however, was not to have a big meal but to have a little time to rest and to be with them. He was on his way to Jerusalem to accomplish his mission. These were his last days. He knew that soon he would be leaving them. He did not have much time with them. This would be the last time he visited them. His mind was not on food, but on intimate relationship.
Mary understood Jesus’ need at the moment. She was not distracted with other things. She chose the better part because she took time to accompany, listen and give him her undivided attention. She knew what Jesus wanted and she gave it to him. Therefore she has chosen the better part. Of course, Jesus loved both Mary and Martha equally. He treasured their love and appreciated their devotion to him. He gave compliment to Mary because she understood him. Martha made a mistake. She was eager to serve the Lord, but allowed herself to be distracted by so many things. She cared very much about Jesus, but she did not understand her Master as much as her younger sister did.
It is important for us to know what Jesus wants from us. When we know what he wants and able to give it to him, we have chosen the better part as well.
There is a time-honored story about a young man fresh out of seminary who was called to his first pastorate in a small, farming community. Having to preach every Sunday was quite a challenge for this young man who was accustomed to the world of academia, not the world of the small, country church. Each Sunday he preached sermons that were little more than lengthy quotations taken directly from his seminary classroom notes--dry, academic stuff, to be sure.
The congregation was used to having ministers fresh out of seminary. In fact, over the years they had become quite patient and tolerant. They understood themselves as a congregation gifted with the task of training young ministers in the realities of church life.
Months went by as this congregation waited for the young man to work his way into his new role of pastor and teacher. Then one Sunday the elder who prepared the sanctuary for the service left a note on the pulpit. On a small piece of paper he wrote a Bible reference, John 12:21. That’s all it said, John 12:21.
Well, the young minister arrived not long afterward, and he too went into the sanctuary to prepare for the morning’s service. He saw the note on the pulpit which read “John 12:21.” A curious thing to find in the pulpit, he thought, so he quickly thumbed through his Bible and found the passage which read: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”