Martha or Mary? On Choosing the Better Part
Last year, in preparation for Easter Sunday, I spent one entire morning making lists: the menu, the shopping list, the clothing list, and a list of basket items. I printed out recipes and made mental notes of what services we would attend during the Triduum. I checked my bins of Easter decorations, taking stock of what I could use and what items still needed to be purchased.
While my original intention was to plan a beautiful celebration to honor the Risen Lord, my focus drifted as I made menus and managed children. Lost in my visions of Easter morning “perfection”, I pushed Jesus’ scourging at the pillar from my mind. I forgot about the Crucifixion in favor of more worldly endeavors like decorating cookies and coordinating matching outfits.
Later, when my lists were organized and complete, I loaded kids into the van and off we went to eliminate a few items from the to-do. I don’t know what caused it; perhaps it was my attachment to my agenda coupled with annoying kid behavior, but at some point someone did something to upset someone else and I started yelling.
There I was—during the holiest week of the year—ranting like a madwoman as I drove country roads.
The kids were wide-eyed as my diatribe reached its peak and the entire van went silent until we got to the store. After we bought new shoes and socks and returned home, I snuck upstairs for some quiet prayer time. Settling myself in front of a sun-filled window and curling under a blanket, I randomly opened the Gospel and scoughed out loud when my eyes fell on the story of Mary and Martha.
She was so busy tending to the details of her dinner party; she couldn’t stop working to enjoy her most honored guest, the Son of God. But that’s not the worst of it. Her initially good intention to prepare a special celebration was clouded by her ego, her desire to throw the most fabulous dinner party ever.
“Can’t you tell my sister to help me?” Martha begs Jesus when she sees Mary sitting at our Lord’s feet.
I can almost hear her say it, “Doesn’t she know we need to finish baking the bread from scratch and setting the table with the crystal? This party is far from perfect so I’m gonna need some help here! I can’t do fabulous all by myself!”
Our Lord responds gently saying, “ Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
On that morning when my own Easter preparations had reached a screeching frenzy, I groaned silently with the realization I too had fallen prey to the Martha syndrome. Although I didn’t voice them, my thoughts sounded just like Martha’s words: Does anyone realize everything that needs to be done? Why are they all goofing off? Why am I the one who always has to take care of everything?
And, like Martha, I am a professional at honoring my ego instead of Jesus Christ.
Will I ever be like Mary, Martha’s sister, who sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to His words? Will I ever be the one who chooses the better part?
I love to contemplate the Virgin Mary because she is the example par excellence of motherhood and homemaking. Martha Stewart doesn’t have anything on the Blessed Mother–Our Lady knew how to make things lovely and good. For example, I know Mother Mary never lost it because the linens weren’t pressed properly or because the lamb was undercooked. Nor did she burn the middle night oil so Jesus would awaken to find an Easter basket next to his Pottery Barn bed with– wait for it–homemade chocolates laying atop a bed of freshly grown grass.
Her child was born in a stable. He grew up in a relatively poor home and He led a simple life. There were no smocked suits for Him to done in the Temple. But I know the manner in which His Mother celebrated religious holidays with her family was nothing short of exquisite.
Mary didn’t get lost in the details; She knew what was necessary—love and how she showed it to those around her—and she never failed in that primary obligation. She faithfully tended to her duties but they didn’t become a false god to worship and serve. Like Martha’s sister, Mary, our own Blessed Mother was willing to sit at Jesus’ feet instead of running around filling water pitchers and washing dishes.
If I truly want to make my family’s Easter celebration beautiful, it’s not the emphasis on dyed eggs and home cooked food and darling ensembles that will do it. A true celebration of Christ on Easter includes a willingness to let it all go and sit at Jesus’ feet in adoration and thanksgiving.
It requires a desire to always choose the better part.
Copyright 2013 Colleen Duggan