The better part.” What is it? Mary chooses stillness while Martha chooses busyness. Mary chooses to listen to Jesus’ words while Martha chooses to tell him what she requires to provide proper hospitality. Preachers who think Martha gets a bad rap usually emphasize the latter interpretation.
During my ordination process to become a minister in The United Methodist Church, the bishop (the person who oversees clergy within a region) included a letter to candidates’ physicians for our mandatory physical examinations that declared that pastoral ministry demands at least sixty highly stressful hours per week. Thus I am acutely aware of the hypocrisy of clergy as we use this passage to call church members to stillness. Yet here we are: I’m choosing to pause from demanding doctoral studies and family care, as are you from the busy demands on your time, in order to be still and to linger together at the feet of Jesus as we listen to this passage.
Why? What is “the better part” that Mary has chosen, and what are the consequences for Martha of not having chosen it? The Bible readings for this week offer us several insights if we who practice these daily disciplines (a word that we could easily mistake for Martha’s busy work) remain still enough to pay attention.
The same bishop who had considered sixty highly stressful hours per week an acceptable description of ministry was scheduled to meet with area clergy for a spiritual retreat. Upon arrival, we discovered that stress-related health issues precipitated the bishop’s absence. Thankfully, the bishop recovered and now balances activity and stillness, even while serving in retirement.
Reflect on how high a priority it is for you to seek, find, and choose “the better part.”