In today’s Gospel, we find Jesus in the house of Martha and Mary, two sisters who were his close friends and disciples. Jesus teaches the two women while he shares a meal with them, as he often did. But there’s a disagreement. Martha thinks that it’s unfair that she is doing all the work, while her sister Mary is ‘just’ sitting and listening to Jesus. Jesus gently reminds Martha that what Mary is doing – giving him her undivided attention, listening to his words – is the most important thing, or the ‘better part.’
Jesus is not telling Martha that she is wrong to care for others. In other Gospel stories, he teaches his disciples that their faith should lead them to love their neighbour – to care for the poor, the sick and those who are in need. But listening to his words and teaching comes first.
There are many Christians who give their lives to service. Catholic associations like the St Vincent de Paul Society show us a wonderful example of practical care for those who are in need. But their service is always rooted in prayer and centred on Christ. By listening to the Word of God and spending time in prayer, we come to know God’s will for us, so that our service to others can be well directed. We need both Martha and Mary in the Church, and we need both in our lives as disciples of Christ.