What’s Important?

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What might be at work in the story of Martha and Mary?

Remember the story of Martha and Mary? Jesus had brought a boatload of disciples to their home in Bethany, and Martha was irritated because her sister wasn’t helping with all the work involved in entertaining guests. But when she tried to get Jesus to take her side, he surprised her by saying, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).

If I had been Martha, living in that day and age, I might have been tempted to conclude that Jesus was like most men, clueless about how much work it took to feed and provide for guests. But that interpretation doesn’t really wash, because Jesus was no hidebound first-century male. So what else might be at work in the story?

Here’s how Augustine interpreted it, imagining what he would have said to Martha if given the chance. “But you, Martha, if I may say so, are blessed for your good service, and for your labors you seek the reward of peace. Now you are much occupied in nourishing the body, admittedly a holy one. But when you come to the heavenly homeland will you find a traveler to welcome, someone hungry to feed, or thirsty to whom you may give drink, someone ill whom you could visit, or quarreling whom you could reconcile, or dead whom you could bury? No, there will be none of these tasks there. What you will find there is what Mary chose. There we shall not feed others, we ourselves shall be fed. Thus what Mary chose in this life will be realized there in all its fullness; she was gathering fragments from that rich banquet, the Word of God. Do you wish to know what we will have there? The Lord himself tells us when he says of his servants, Amen, I say to you, he will make them recline and passing he will serve them.”

 

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