More lessons from the one thing necessary

By Engr. Carlos V. Cornejo

There’s more to the story of Martha and Mary in the Gospel than meets the eye.  I have been referring to this Gospel episode many times in a number of my articles as a lesson on prioritizing the spiritual life over the physical life and there’s more that we can learn from it.  I reckon that it’s just the nature of the Gospel, it’s inexhaustible. Everything that has to do with God and the things of God is just like God Himself, unlimited and infinite in nature.

“Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.  She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.  But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so, she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’  But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10:38-42)

There are some people who find our Lord Jesus being too harsh with Martha for making a seemingly valid complaint.  But Christ was making her see a spiritual point rather than a human perspective.  The point Jesus was trying to get across was that if we are dealing with God, all other things have to be secondary or should take a back seat because God should be our first priority.  This was not to belittle Martha’s work, but letting Mary listen to God’s word is just more important.

Other spiritual writers would see this as a life of work represented by Martha versus a life of prayer represented by Mary.  Now which one should we prioritize?  The message of Christ is clear.  Work is not a replacement of prayer.  Prayer is the foundation of our work.  As Fr. Luis De Souza would say, “Prayer is not a substitute to working, thinking, sacrificing, or giving.  It is the support of all of these.”  We are not able to do God’s work unless we are in touch with God first.  Good works in themselves do not bring us closer to heaven, unless we repeatedly bring ourselves first closer to Christ through regular prayer.  If we are not in close contact with Christ, our charitable works, no matter how good they are, would lack intensity and merit because our soul and its disposition are not in union with Christ without prayer.   St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta was the perfect example for this.  When asked, “Where do you get your strength serving the poorest of the poor and the sick?”  She replied, “I just don’t do it for the poor and the sick, I do it for Christ.”

God should not just be an option among many that we should get busy with in this life.  God is not a kind of hobby that we attend to every now and then, especially if we need something from Him.  Or think of God only on Sundays when we fulfill the Sunday Mass obligation.  He should be the Lord of our life, influencing everything that we do even in our rest and relaxation.  One indicator if God is the “one thing necessary” in our life is if we view all events in our life always with a spiritual point of view.  If not, then we still have much work to do in our relationship with Him.

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