On one level what Jesus says to Martha in today’s Gospel makes no sense. He says the things she’s worrying about – food, drinks, cutlery, places to sit – are not important, when she knows, and we know, that people’s physical needs are really important. But he’s trying to get her to see that paying attention to the guests is just as important as feeding them. He’s trying to get her to stop running round in a panic and slow down enough to be present to her guests, and above all, to him. He is offering her a different kind of food, food that will sustain her throughout her life if she will only sit still long enough to receive it. Jesus commends her sister Mary not for being lazy but for knowing what really matters in life.
This Gospel passage has often been used to tell us we should do less and pray more but that is not its real point. It is not denying the real needs which exist and which we have a responsibility to meet, but it is saying that unless our lives are centred on God, our efforts to meet those needs will lack direction and purpose. We will be more likely to get stressed and frustrated, we will be less likely to succeed in making those we care for feel loved and appreciated, and we will be less fun to be with.
A priest friend of mine said recently that we mainly preach to ourselves: we say what we need to hear. I’m sure that’s true, but I’m also sure that I’m not the only one who needs to hear Jesus saying to me ‘You worry and fret about so many things, but few are necessary, indeed only one: what Mary has chosen is good’.