Reading: Luke 10:38-42
The story of Martha and Mary has had many perspectives on the lesson from the story. We learn about the need for hospitality and true attention to the Guest. We also learn about one of the most glaring lessons: letting go of our distractions. “Martha, Martha,” Jesus says. “You are worried and distracted by many things.” But, how can Martha set aside the necessary housework and just sit with Jesus?
How many days we find that we put off time with friends or loved ones because we have things to do that we feel are absolutely necessary. Jesus nearly admonishes Martha by telling her that her sister Mary has chosen the “better part”. Distractions are the reality of every living person and so are things like housework. Like Martha, we have good intentions in that work, but so very often it removes us from an existence that is life giving. And who gives us that life but none other than God?
Sometimes saying no to busywork is the absolute necessity. We ultimately have need of only one thing: The God who gives life. All the rest, as Saint Paul would say, is “rubbish”. (Philippians 3:8) Jesus never denied to Martha that there was indeed busywork that had to be done. He was hoping to reframe her choice in the present, not the future dinner that she was likely working toward. What was the best choice in that moment? It was to sit with Jesus. Do we forget that the scripture says it was Martha who welcomed Jesus into her home? What kind of host welcomes someone and then disappears into the kitchen never to spend time with the guest?
Paul has a point calling anything not leading him to Christ as “rubbish”. The Greek word is σκύβαλον (skoo-balon) which literally means animal excrement. A modern translation that would fit well is, well, BS. All in all, whatever I do in my life that doesn’t involve God is gravy. It’s BS compared to what I gain by spending time with the Lord. The Lord instead calls us away from our busywork not for nothing, but to say that there is other work to be done: the work of the Kingdom.
Saint Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises tap into what this kind of work Jesus is calling us to will be like. Jesus would say something like:
I want to overcome all diseases, all poverty, all ignorance, all oppression and slavery—in short, all the evil which beset humankind. Whoever wishes to join me in this undertaking must be content with the same food, drink, clothing, and so on, that comes with following me. So, too, whoever is with me in the labor of the day’s work and with me in the loneliness of the night watches will likewise have a part with me in the final victory.
(Draw Me Into Your Friendship, David Fleming, SJ)
He’s saying that all else is pittance compared to this Kingdom work! We may have to say no at times to what might seem more important. We might find ourselves lonely or worn out. But we don’t have to do this. We have a choice to follow the Lord in this mission and it begins by sitting at his feet and listening. Because comparatively… All else is BS.
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Music by Kevin MacLeod