'You worry and fret about so many things'

By Moira Billinge

Life can be hectic and sometimes we find ourselves accomplishing all the tasks we feel we should do, to the exclusion of many things we would rather do.

As we wade through to-do lists, how often do we dangle in our minds a carrot of reward? For example, a relaxing hot drink – NOT cold and gulped; the chance to do a month-old newspaper crossword; or even simply to sit down somewhere peaceful for a moment's claim. All things conceived to spur us through the next task – and then the next.

Recently my parish staged the excellent Everybody's Welcome course run by this Archdiocese. During one of two sessions we discussed the story of Martha and Mary in which we see them welcome Jesus into their Bethany home in two completely different ways.

Martha welcomed him by preparing a meal and cleaning; Mary's welcome was to sit comfortably, enjoy the presence of Jesus and do nothing more strenuous than listen.

On the surface Mary may seem something of a slacker, leaving all the work to her sister. Indeed, Martha knew that if Mary had helped her, they could both have enjoyed the Lord's company that bit sooner; so she finally lost patience with the unfairness of the situation. She attempted to enlist Jesus' aid in persuading Mary to help. 'Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do the serving all by myself,' she asked. She may not, however, have been too pleased with the response.

While many of us may empathise with Martha, considering her gripe justified, Jesus replied by saying: 'You worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part and it is not to be taken away from her.' (Luke 10:40-42)

He appeared not to have much sympathy with Martha's choice of welcome, despite the fact he would eventually enjoy the meal she had worked hard to prepare – and even if throughout the Gospels he had spoken about the importance of service.

Today I learned of the death of a dear friend I had known for decades, albeit in the last few years our communication had become infrequent. Despite good intentions to write more often, or take a couple of days to visit my long distance, eventually nursing-home-bound friend, I didn't get round to it. There were always other things to do; that magical window of opportunity never arose. With hindsight, some of those things no longer seem so urgent.

Jesus tried to teach Martha to prioritise. Mary, by contrast, had the insight to know that Jesus had come to their home not to be fed but to feed, and all he asked for was their love, time and attention without unnecessary distraction. Everything else was less important. It is a lesson we often fail to heed or practise in our own lives – until it is too late. Instead we 'worry and fret about so many things' when 'few are needed'.