Monday, June 13, 2005


LUKE 10:38-42

People frequently interpret today's gospel story as giving us an insight into Jesus' attitude toward two states of life, the contemplative and the active. Martha they see as embodying the active type of person, and Mary the contemplative. And, of course, Jesus tells Martha that her sister, Mary, has chosen the better part. And so they conclude Jesus therefore clearly thinks the contemplative way of life is superior to the active. Well, maybe Jesus does think this way. But you can't establish it from today's gospel story.

Jesus was not suggesting that Martha's activity-filled life was a less worthy type of service or was morally or spiritually less acceptable than Mary's contemplative way. Martha's service to Jesus was very much in line with the activity of the Good Samaritan in yesterday's gospel, showing kindness to, being concerned about people . . . and we saw how Jesus praised the Samaritan.

It's not a matter of measuring Martha against Mary or activity against contemplation. Both were needed in the early days of the Church, and both are necessary today. And both should be part of the life of every individual Christian.

On one occasion Jesus' lifestyle was so active that his family thought he might be going out of his mind. On another occasion we see him so weary that he was sleeping in a boat, undisturbed by a fierce storm that had his companions, experienced fishermen, crying out in terror. So weary, the storm did not wake him up. Luke also notes, however, that Jesus was always going off to a quiet place to spent time listening to his Father.

Why did Jesus chide Martha? Not, surely, because Martha was activity- prone. You could say this about Jesus himself. Rather because Martha criticized Mary, who took time to sit and listen to Jesus, to be contemplative.

If the gospel scene were relived in our day, I suspect Jesus would behave no differently than he did in the home of Martha and Mary. Active people tend today to loose themselves in activity as did Martha then. We need also to incorporate into our active lives a bit of the contemplative.

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