Need Of One Thing Only

Attentiveness can be challenging sometimes. As an older sister trying to finish a term paper my little sister kept pestering me to play. Or I am out to dinner with friends are to catch up on news and one keeps answering  her cell phone. The dog keeps barking to be let out while my brother-in-law is playing spelautomater dream jackpot games online. To be attentive—especially to be attentive to another person—means that we focus, that we eliminate distractions, that we allow one thing to command our full attention.

martha_and_mary_by_he_qi_chinaThis Sunday’s Gospel is about attentiveness. Martha is attentive about getting food prepared and serving; Mary is attentive about listening to her Guest. Both are doing good things. However, one is choosing the “better part.”

Jesus tells Martha in this gospel that there “is need of only one thing.” What is it? On the surface, the answer would seem to be “listening to him speak,” as Mary is doing. Even this is not enough, however. We must also heed how Jesus judges Martha: “you are anxious and worried about many things.” The “one thing” is to be single-minded, single-hearted, open-minded, open-hearted. The “one thing” is to surrender ourselves to Jesus’ Presence, whether sitting or standing, resting or working, receiving or giving. [Living Liturgy 2013]

The gospel is about hosts and guest and hospitality, but Jesus puts an unparalleled twist on the notion of hospitality. Martha’s “hospitality” was made edgy because of her becoming burdened with the cooking and serving and only focusing on that, losing sight of Jesus. Martha settles for being only a servant (and complaining about it at that!) while Jesus is looking for disciples. Mary’s hospitality was more gracious than Martha’s because she focused her attention on Jesus: “sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him.” The surprise is that Jesus affirms that the “better part” is to be attentive to his Presence. The “better part” is to be a disciple, attuned to the Master!

There are many ways that Jesus is present to us if we take the time to be attentive to his Presence. We usually address living the paschal mystery in terms of how we die to ourselves in our everyday living. This gospel suggests a radically different—and complementary—way of living the paschal mystery:being attentive to Jesus’ abiding Presence!