Slow down, listen and Act!

It’s normal to worry from time to time. Given life’s many unknowns and challenges, worry can be considered a natural response to many situations. Chronic and all-consuming worry however, can easily interfere with our ability to function freely and calmly in our daily lives. A lot of study has been carried out about worry. I read an article with surprising statistics about people’s worries summed up as follows: Things that never happened and will never occur anyway (40 percent); things that have happened and cannot be changed (30 percent); petty and needless worries (22 percent); legitimate worries which are beyond one’s control (8 percent).  Whether the statistics are reliable or not, it gives us a clue of how much worrying can dominate our lives.

The gospel this Sunday introduces us to two sisters, Martha and Mary. They are both eager to serve Jesus but they go about it in different ways. Martha is the perfect host. She prepares the house for Jesus and His disciples. She cooks the food and serves everyone because she anticipates they are tired and hungry. Martha is so upset that Mary does not help her in the household chores and turns to Jesus. “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving”. Jesus gently revoked her: “Martha, Martha, you fret and worry about so many things, but just one thing is needed, Mary has chosen the best portion.”  On the other hand, Mary is the perfect disciple. She sits beside the Lord, listening to His instructions and teaching. She seems to instinctively know that “there is a need of only one thing”- to listen to the good news that He brings.

Both sisters are doing the same thing. They are each devoted to Jesus and are each serving the Lord. What Jesus corrects is best described as “focus”. Martha lost focus, not on what she was doing but why she was doing it. Martha, you are anxious and worried”. The word worried can be interpreted as distraction, and this is exactly what happens when we worry; we become distracted. Martha’s concern with Mary distracted her, and made her service a burden. That is what Jesus corrects. The “better part” is devotion to the Lord. The “better part” is finding our focus for whatever we do in him and for him. Listening and preparing a meal for Jesus are important because they are expressions of love and service.  For a Christian, the works of service and charity should never be detached from the main source of all our actions: listening to the Word of the Lord in an attitude of a disciple. Action and contemplation should not be viewed as in opposition but complimentary.

Luke has given us this story of Martha and Mary on the heels of the story of the Good Samaritan we heard last Sunday.  In that passage, Jesus emphasized that love for neighbor requires us to serve them, to “go and do likewise.” On the other hand, Martha needs to stop “going and doing.” She needs to fulfill the greatest commandment-to love the Lord her God with everything she has, by ceasing all activity and listening to Him. Martha needs to slow downstoplisten. Only then, will the burden of service be lightened and the anxiety in souls be stilled.

It is hard not to be over-busy and consumed by work, particularly during our generative years when duties and responsibilities fall more squarely on our shoulders. As Henri Nouwen once described this, our lives often seem like over-packed suitcases with too much in them. There is always one more task to do, one more phone call to make, one more person to see, one more bill to pay, one more thing to check on the internet, one more demand from some social agency, and one more item that needs to be picked up from the store. The demands never end and we are always conscious of some task that we still need to do. No matter how good the work and no matter how noble the motivation for doing it, there are dangers in overwork,  In this Gospel passage, Jesus is not minimizing the role of service. Action and contemplation are both necessary.  Service without a reliance on the Word of God becomes social do-goodism. Standing in the presence of the Lord, and listening to his voice, eventually requires action, compels a response to act. Are you ready to slow down, listen and act?


Msgr Joseph