I prefer to do obvious chores. I’m guilty of doing the most noticeable housework first. Empty the sink, clear out the dishwasher, do the laundry. I even leave folded clothes out on the bed so Katie knows how wonderful I am. (Because what’s the point of putting the clothes away? Then no one will notice you did laundry. Duh.) I don’t sweep unless the floor is crunchy and I don’t vacuum unless the rug is visibly dirty. I certainly don’t dust. Where’s the reward in that? And I find I’m not alone in my need be doing and doing in a visible way.
Every year, when dozens of our teens go on a summer mission trip, they have the opportunity to select the work site they want to be at all week. Without fail people are drawn to the home where the work is more visible (construction or painting) and the family circumstances are most dire. I remember one year where this became almost a competition between work teams (“Today we framed three walls for our host Tony who has diabetes, heart disease, gout, his kids don’t talk to him, he’s super poor, he has terrible halitosis…”). We reinforce this as a society with a great focus on “doing” at all times. Especially in ways that are measurable. Think, in this Year of Mercy, how much attention we pay to the corporal works of mercy and how little attention is given to the spiritual works of mercy. We give awards of recognition, require service hours and do write ups in the Milton Times for feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and sheltering the homeless. I wonder if any high school student has ever turned in a service hours form for 10 hours of “bearing wrongs patiently.”
This brings me to this Sunday’s gospel reading (Luke 10:38-42). In it we see Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet, and Martha, burdened with much serving. Martha wasn’t doing anything wrong. What she was doing was very good. She was serving her family and her guest, who happened to be her Lord. It’s not that Martha was wrong and Mary was right. What Martha did was good, but what Mary did was better. It was the only thing that needed to be done.
The message for us is to choose the better part like Mary did. What I want is to be doing. I want to do a work that is a visible accomplishment. And not even so I can receive credit or boast—I want to look at what I did and know I did something. But that isn’t the better part. That isn’t what Jesus knows I need. He wants me to come to Him and simply be in His presence. To sit at His feet, under His loving gaze. To pray, to be healed in Reconciliation and receive Him in the Eucharist. There are no awards and there is no sense of accomplishment. There is so much more—there is grace and the unconditional love of God that strengthens all of our efforts; there is mercy and the Holy Spirit who sanctifies us. I firmly believe that Mary, after spending time at the Master’s feet, went out and was able to do the works of Martha better than Martha ever could.