THE KIND OF GOODNESS THAT DOES NO GOOD
Martha, Martha, you worry about “the ten thousand things.” So, few are necessary. Indeed, only one. —Luke 10:42
There is this story about a father who after work would take a long walk with his teenage daughter. He took great pleasure in her company. Suddenly she began to offer almost daily excuses as to why she could not accompany him. He was hurt but he held his tongue. Finally, his birthday arrived. His daughter presented him a sweater she had knitted. Then he realized that she had done her knitting when he was out of the house for his walk. He said to her, “Martha, Martha, I do appreciate this sweater. But I value your company infinitely more. A sweater I can buy in any store. But you I cannot buy. Please never abandon me again.”
People need company, a listener. In our daily life, it is important to focus on the right thing. Sometime we forget what is important and we focus on the wrong thing. This is what the gospel reading teaches us today. There are certain good deeds that do no good. Martha was everything good and right, but one thing she was not. She was not present—most likely, not present to herself, her own feelings of resentment, perhaps her own martyr complex, her need to be needed. This is the kind of goodness that does no good! If she was not present to herself, Martha could not be present to her guests in any healing way, and spiritually speaking, she could not even be present to God. Presence is of one piece. How you are present to anything is how you can be present to God, loved ones, strangers, those who are suffering.
Here, Jesus is not actually trying to elevate Mary over Martha. No! If Martha had focused on her serving without grumbling, Jesus would not have told her what he said. So, Jesus is not trying to place contemplation over service. The two are two wings with which we come to God. The two are inseparable and are equally good. Every of our actions must flow from our intimacy with Jesus.
Sometimes we might think of people who are devout Christians or even specifically part of religious orders as quite cloistered and hiding themselves away from the world. I’ve been to monasteries where people observe periods of silence throughout the day or even days of silence where they are hidden away from the world in prayer. The centre of their lives is contemplation. Other times there are folks who are devout Christians and/or part of religious orders who are out in the streets feeding people, setting up shelters, lobbying our government for social justice causes, or protesting any number of issues that Christians care about. The centre of their lives is action.
Keep this in mind—our external behaviour can be connected to and supported by inner guidance. How we think, talk, and behave out in the world can be connected to who we truly are inside. It’s good to keep in mind this connection between action and contemplation when we hear the story of Mary and Martha in our text from Luke’s Gospel today. Jesus taught Martha at the mundane, ordinary level because that would reflect her same pattern at the divine level. For Martha—and for us—such naked presence was indeed “the one thing necessary.”
“Only one thing is necessary,” Jesus says. If you are present, you will be able to know what you need to know. These are the seers! Truly seeing is both that simple and that hard.
-Fr. Charles Chidiebere Mmaduekwe