On December 21st the Church addresses Christ as King of the Nations and sings the ancient O Antiphon which tells us that Christ makes "both to be one" -- utraque unum. In many ways our Lord makes "both to be one." Today's Gospel is often the vehicle for assigning a higher value to a life of contemplation over one which involves the busyness which Martha symbolized. A closer look at the Gospel, however might suggest that the real virtue toward which we might do well to strive is a healthy balance between the two.
When Jesus entered the village, it was Martha who welcomed him. We have been told elsewhere in scripture about the importance of being hospitable and surely it is no accident that this detail was included. Other translations even render the passage as "Martha welcomed him into her home." Later in the Gospel account, Martha's preoccupation with serving brought out what might well have been a cranky remark -- not unlike things we might say around our own homes when we are frustrated: "Am I the only one who ever takes in the newspaper?" or "How is it that no one else washes their dirty dishes?" or maybe "Please don't leave just ONE ice cube in the tray? Am I the only one in this house who knows how to fill it?" Our modern-day frustrations may seem to be an exaggeration but on a day when we are tired and burdened, we can sound a bit like dear Martha of today's Gospel.
Mary, on the other hand, keeps her eyes on the Lord and does not leave his presence. And it is she who is praised for choosing the better part. Indeed, most of us would agree that sitting at the feet of our Lord is preferable to leaning over a hot stove! We might wonder, however, if Mary would have had the opportunity to be with the Lord had Martha not welcomed him when he entered the village. Hospitality and contemplation are two sides of the same coin. Both are one.
When we are hospitable, we cannot offer anything which is spiritually nourishing if we have not spent time -- in one form or another -- at the feet of the Lord. By the same token, when we spend time in prayer and contemplation, we should question the quality of that time if it does not, in some way, lead us ever more toward a loving service of our neighbors -- be they our neighbors who are homeless on the street whom we serve at a shelter, our colleagues at work, our peers in school, the members of our family, or our sisters in community with whom we live. Hospitality is the fruit of a rich relationship with Christ. For only when we see Christ in our neighbor does our act of kindness toward another become an act of divine love. Hospitality is the fruit of prayer for both are one in Christ.