Productivity. It has become a hot button word in our society. There are
workshops to increase productivity and hundreds of apps to streamline
your day, set priorities, make lists, and become more efficient. We measure
ourselves by how much we get done, how many tasks we check off of our
How often do people host friends only to find themselves stuck in “host
mode” getting drinks, prepping food, and making introductions? The social
gathering goes well, but when all is said and done, the host realizes that he
or she never got a chance to actually talk to any of their guests.
Jesus is in the home of Martha. She is doing everything a good hostess
would do having an honored guest in her house. Of course, that means she
is very busy anticipating the needs of her guests and ensuring that they will
be met. When Martha complains to Jesus that her sister is not helping,
Jesus does not tell Mary to do her fair share of the work. He tells Martha
that she is living distracted from what is most important, while Mary has
embraced it. So what is it that Mary has embraced? What is the “better
part” that Jesus is talking about?
Jesus knows that he will not always be there with them. He knows that he
has things he wants to say to those around him, but they have to listen and
be present with him to really hear what he has to say. Mary is choosing to
live in the moment of being present with Jesus. Something has drawn her
to Jesus’ feet and is holding her there. Perhaps she has a feeling that this
is an opportunity that is too good to miss. Perhaps Jesus is like a magnet,
and she is drawn to him for reasons that she cannot explain. Whatever her
reasons, she is choosing to pause in her busy life, sit down, and just be in
the presence of Jesus.
Hospitality- it’s not just about the food. Martha and Mary are both practicing
hospitality. Martha is doing the kind of hospitality that I find easier to do.
She is taking care of the practical side of things, making sure everyone is
fed and comfortable. Mary is doing the side of hospitality that is a little
harder to define, it can’t be made into a to-do list and it is harder to see
results. She is showing Jesus, the guest, that he is important by giving him
Most of us put Martha hospitality into practice frequently through preparing
meals, doing the dishes. It is part of who many people here are. But what
about Mary hospitality? Does it come as naturally? You can put the Mary-
type of hospitality into practice in your every day life, and not just with
guests. Mary is living in the moment, being present with those around her.
She is not distracted by what needs to be done, what her plans are for
tomorrow, or what is going on elsewhere. Productivity and efficiency are not
a part of what she is doing.
Technology has made bring present with those around us even more
difficult. We have only to look around a restaurant to see people who are
distracted from those whom they are with. Heads down, phones out. The
same is true at a park. Kids are playing, parents are distracted. Heads
down, phones out. Maybe they are doing the grocery list, catching up on
work emails, or making plans for the family for the following day. Yes,
maybe they are being productive… but they are not being present.
Life is short and unpredictable. Jesus knew he did not have a lot of time to
spend with the people around him, but they did not have that knowledge.
We are in the same situation. We do not know how much time we have with
those around us. The unpredictability of life means that the time we are
spending with our family and friends, could be the last.
So what is the better part? The better part is presence over productivity.
The better part is truly seeing the people you are around for the wonderful
creation that they are. The better part is opening yourself up to the wisdom
and experience that others have to offer, not because they are better than
you, but because you see their value too. The better part is being in the
here and now.
Jesus never condemns Martha for her hard work, he says that it is not the
only important, or even most important thing going on. He does not tell her
to change what she is doing, but makes it clear to her that both she and
Mary are making choices with where to spend their energy.
I spent four days last week with a dozen middle schoolers from across the
diocese. We hiked in the White Mountains. It was a new experience for
many of them, and a challenge in more than one way. On the first day of
hiking, we did not do a lot of miles, but almost every step was up hill and
these teens were wearing packs that they certainly were not used to. They
struggled to get up to the hut that was our destination. Why did I sign up for
this? My mom made me come! My shoulders hurt. I’d rather be playing
video games. Can I go back now? These were some of the comments I
heard in the first quarter of a mile. I talked with some of the youth who were
struggling the most about being in the moment. Don’t think about what you
could be doing at home, think about what you are doing now. Look around
you and tell yourself what you see and hear. I see a tree. I see moss. I see
rocks. I see a slug. I see those around me. I hear birds, a waterfall, the
rustle of the trees. Get yourself into the moment and be present here and
now. They started to notice things around them and, while they still
complained, it was every few steps now instead of every step along the
way. True hiking is not about being productive, it is about being present on
the journey. And I think life is that way too.
How are we choosing to spend our time and energy? Jesus tells us that the
better part is to be present here and now. So next time you sit down with
your family or friends, put the phone away. Find time to be quiet and sit at
the feet of Jesus. He is still teaching us through holy scripture and through
those who are around us. It is up to us to put away some of the
distractions, even for a brief time, so that we can listen.