Our natural sympathies are probably with Marta in today’s Gospel reading. After all, she was doing all the work. Why did the Holy Spirit inspire Luke to remember & record this incident for the Church? What do Martha & Mary represent for us?
On one level, Martha & Mary have traditionally been taken to represent two dimensions of institutional life in the Church, the active life and the contemplative life. The Church needs both. We need those who work in the world to spread the Gospel and Christian values and who work for fairness and for peace. We also need those who support them in prayer. We need work & prayer. They are not rivals but allies, partners in the work of the Gospel.
One level of understanding Martha & Mary is as two vocations in the church, active & contemplative, which the church deeply needs,
On a second level, Martha & Mary also stand for two dimensions inside each of one of us. One is a desire to achieve, to work, to raise a family, to make a difference and to accomplish something. That’s the Martha dimension. The other need we all have, which is unique to human beings, is the need to pause, look at where our life is going, to listen to the Lord. That is the Mary dimension which is unique to us. Prayer & reflection give us the rudder to guide our life. Otherwise we are like a leaf that the wind pushes anywhere.
A second level where Martha & Mary touch home with us is the need to work and the need to pause and pray. We human beings need both.