Sarah Reinhard looks at the story of Mary and Martha with a focus on the humility involved in asking for help and accepting the help that is offered.
As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary [who] sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.
Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.”
The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
These 106 words that haunt me sometimes. (Tell me I’m not alone.)
Like Martha, I often find myself burdened with much serving. It’s not just the humans who live in my home, but also the village and support system that keeps me going. Serving is part of who I have chosen to be, but man oh man, it can feel like too much, like ten things too many, like a pile of overwhelm waiting to explode.
I can’t help but notice that Martha asked for help.
In the midst of an impromptu dinner party with the Son of God, she had the wherewithal to march up to God Himself and ask for help.
How often do I actually humble myself enough to ask for help? And, then, how often am I open to the help I’m offered?
Jesus is gentle with Martha. He doesn’t tell her to get over herself and her agenda. He doesn’t point out that things are just fine. But He does remind her that “there is need of only one thing.”
So often, I want that one thing to be a nap. A rest. A break from the serving.
Many times, I think I want to be Mary. Let me sit at Your feet, Lord. Let me soak in Your wisdom. Let me have a rest.
But is Mary really resting? We know she’s not running around, but is she really not serving?
I suspect Mary is not burdened the way Martha is.
Could it be that she accepted the help that the Lord offered her? For Mary, that help may have been a chance to pause at His feet, to spend time with Him.
The cares of this world are not bad things. But they add up. They interrupt and disrupt and seem to never stop. They will take and take and take. They will suck you dry.
And those are the things Jesus was inviting Martha to let go of, to release. “You have many cares, I know. But come, choose the better part.”
So many of us are all drowning, and not in bad things or evil tasks, but in quantity. The housework, the career, the activities, the volunteering … and that’s just today.
And it’s not just a case of moderation or of priorities. It’s a balance and a letting go—a choosing of the better part. We have to define what the better part is, I think, and this is a very personal and specific activity. It requires time with Jesus, discernment, reflection.
I have found that the better part, rather than being a set thing, seems to vary by season and what stage my family is in, where my career path is leading, my personal mental state.
It’s not easy. Martha asked for help, and she got it—though maybe not in the way she expected. Mary chose the better part … in that instance.
It’s an invitation to each of us, each day. May we remember it and embrace it.
Copyright 2022 Sarah Reinhard
About the Author
When she’s not chasing kids, chugging coffee, or juggling work, Sarah Reinhard’s usually trying to stay up read just one … more … chapter. She writes and works in the midst of rural farm life with little ones underfoot. She is part of the team for the award-winning Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion, as well as the author of a number of books. Follow her writing at Snoring Scholar.