But the Lord answered, ”Martha, Martha, you worry and are troubled about many things, whereas only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken away from her.”
The family of the two sisters, Mary and Martha, is very close to Jesus. Their house in Bethany is the resting place of Jesus every time He goes to Jerusalem and in His return from Jerusalem. They had their brother Lazarus whom Jesus wept over when he died. They were intimate friends of Jesus. Mary and Martha, though they were sisters and living together are different from each other. Some identifies Martha as the icon of work and Mary as icon of prayer. Others say that Martha represents the active life and Mary represents the contemplative life as far as vocation is concerned in the spiritual realm or journey. Others would even say that their lives are too different from each other.
Both Mary and Martha would like to serve Jesus the best in their own particular ways. Their way of serving Jesus reminds me of a question once asked to me in a retreat for high school graduating students: Which is better? action or prayer? A good discussion came out of this question which even resulted to debate. One says action is good. In fact claims that work is prayer. Another says that prayer is good. Prayer is a communion with God. Nothing else is more important than being exclusively with God. All their realizations are good and right. However, St. James says: ”Prayer without action is nothing and work without prayer is nothing but a simple activity” (cf Jas. 2:14-20). Jesus exhorted: ”Away from me can do nothing. With me you can do everything” (Jn. 15:6). The services done by Martha and Mary are complementary. St. Gregory commented that Martha complained against Mary to teach her to work too not only pray. She was asking help because she wanted to finish serving so that she could now pray (talk and to listen to Jesus). This gospel narrative reminds all that a person of God is both active and contemplative.