Amos 8:1-12; Psalm 52; (or Genesis 18:1-10a; Psalm 15); Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42
“Wherever you go, there you are.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
Are we Martha, or are we Mary? Are we people of action, or are we contemplatives? Would we rather be quiet alone with God, or would we rather be out there doing something for God? In today’s Gospel Martha is anxious in the kitchen (Luke 10:40-41 – see Greek below), while Mary sits at the feet of Jesus (Luke 10:39). The two have often been contrasted, contemplation versus action, prayer versus deeds. But this is a false dichotomy. They are not really opposed; after all they are sisters. Some spiritual guides try to connect the two by saying that what we plant in the ground of contemplation, we reap in the harvest of action (Meister Eckhart). True enough, however, there are ways to bring these two siblings ever closer together. Martha’s problem was not that she was busy in the kitchen. She was anxious and worried. Worry always takes us away from the moment. Worry is focused on regrets from the past, or on fear of the future. It is never here and now. Jon Kabat-Zinn, writing from the Buddhist tradition, teaches us to be where we are, totally zoned into our present activity. That is contemplation, no less than sitting at the feet of Jesus. Mary is listening. We can also listen in our activity if we are “wherever we go.” Are we there? Or does fret take us elsewhere? Martha had a monkey mind (Buddhist term). She was not at peace. When Jesus says that Mary had chosen the better part (Luke 10:42), he did not mean to contrast action with prayer. Action can be prayer. Jesus was making a distinction between anxiety and peace. The monk and mystic Thomas Merton was speaking of this from the Christian point of view in his last book. The title itself says it all: “Contemplation in a World of Action.”
Luke 10:40 says that Martha was “distracted” with much serving. The Greek word is actually much stronger. It connotes worry, and literally means “pulled or dragged from all around.” In Luke 40:41 Jesus says that Martha is “worried” about many things. Here also the Greek is stronger. It literally means anxious. There is a difference between anxiety and eagerness. These two Greek words (in verses 40 and 41) are rare. They are only found once in the whole New Testament, here in these two verses.
Peace tree shades calm lives.
Monkey sits still in life tree,
awed at Jesus’ feet.