Friends, today’s Gospel inspires protests more than almost any other that I’ve preached on. “Hey Bishop, I think Martha gets a bum rap.” And for centuries the story has been read that Martha represents the “active” life and Mary the “contemplative” life. I would like to stress that the active/contemplative reading of the Martha and Mary story is not that helpful. We have to dig a little deeper.
What does he upbraid Martha for? “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and upset about many things.” It is the frantic, divided, unfocused quality of her life that Jesus is drawing attention to. And what is Mary being praised for? Not precisely that she is “contemplative,” but that she has chosen the unum necessarium (the one necessary thing). She sits quietly at the feet of the Lord, not so much eschewing work as gathering herself, learning what she is essentially about.
There is a cacophony of voices calling out to you; there are a thousand influences pulling you this way and that. What’s the one necessary thing? It is to listen to the voice of Jesus as he tells you of his love and as he tells you who you are.