St Martha

(entered heaven in the first century)

Dear Marty,

By now I am sure you have found your rhythm at work.  You may even be starting to feel that healthy pleasure that comes from mastering new techniques and doing a job really well, day after day.  That’s good.  We were made to work; our work is a continuation of God’s own ur-work of Creation.  He got everything started, we develop it.  But along with expertise and efficiency, along with achievements and effectiveness, there comes a temptation: self-sufficiency.  It’s one that today’s saint tended to fall into, and Jesus taught her the secret way out of it.

Martha of Bethany was sister to Lazarus (the one Jesus rose from the dead – check out John 11 if you need a reminder) and Mary (the one who anointed Jesus with precious perfume a few days before his Passion).  Jesus was good friends with this family and often stayed or dined with them.  Luke describes one of these visits in Chapter 10 of his Gospel.  I’m sure you remember it.  Jesus is there in the living room talking with his disciples, and Mary of Bethany is sitting there at his feet, drinking up every word.  Martha, meanwhile, is busying herself getting things ready for dinner, and is “distracted with all the serving” as St Luke puts it.  Finally, she gets fed up trying to do everything herself, and she says to Jesus, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”  Can’t you just picture the scene?  It shows how well they knew Jesus, and how normal of a man Jesus was in so many ways: Martha felt perfectly comfortable embroiling him in a typical, petty family squabble.

Jesus looks up at her, smiles, and then gives her a lesson I am sure she never forgot (and never stopped thinking about).  He says to her: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things… But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”  Only one thing is needed, “unum est necessarium” in the Latin vulgate… to listen to Jesus, to contemplate him, to let him serve us through his gifts of grace, to sit at his feet and drink in his divine wisdom.

That’s what it’s all about, my hearty young nephew.  So continue enjoying your work, and do it as well as it can be done, but never forget that in the grand scheme of things, what you accomplish on your own matters not a whit compared with what Christ wants to accomplish in and through you.

Your loving uncle,


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