Martha usually gets the bum rap in this particular gospel passage. I think this is rather unfair. The poor woman was obviously a hard-worker, a generous and hospitable host who just wanted Jesus to be comfortable and feel at home. He was, after all, a family friend. Why the seeming rebuke from Jesus then? Was Mary right all along? But that isn’t possible. If both women were to do nothing but sit at Jesus’ feet, how would the food get cooked? Surely, he’d be hungry at some point.
The fact is, neither of the two women was wrong in what she had decided to do. They had made their choice and acted accordingly. Mary chose to listen to Jesus, Martha to take care of the details of hospitality. Neither action was wrong. But Jesus wanted to go deeper into Martha’s complaint, and so he calls their attention not to what they had chosen to do, but to the reasons behind their choice, to the roots of their actions. And in this, Mary had got it a little more right.
“Only one thing is necessary”, Jesus says. And Mary had found it. This to Martha seemed incomprehensible, inconsiderate, even unacceptable. But Mary had already found her “one sure thing”. She had found her “pearl of great price”, her “treasure in the field”, and “she would not be deprived of it”. For Mary, nothing else mattered. To Martha, that appeared ridiculous; to Mary, it was the most reasonable thing to do.
Last summer I attended a wake service for a Belgian missionary priest who had spent more than half a century training future priests at a seminary in Manila. I knew the guy personally and had always marveled at the fact that this man left the comfort of country, home, family, and even language, to live halfway around the world, mentoring young people he didn’t even know, guiding them in their discernment, then letting them go, his only recompense being the gratitude in the hearts of his students, and the knowledge that he was doing something good for the church and the world. To the ordinary eye, such sacrifice would seem ridiculous, incomprehensible, even crazy. To this man, however, it was the “pearl of great price” which he had found and for which he was willing to give up everything. In this seemingly unfathomable act, he had found his “one sure thing”, and nothing could take it away from him.
To find that one’s “pearl of great price”, one’s “one sure thing”, like Mary in today's gospel, is to give one’s whole being to it, heart mind, body, and soul. To find one’s “treasure in the field” is to allow oneself to be consumed by this singular vision and to give one’s whole life to it. It’s nothing short of martyrdom. It’s like watching those moths that dance around the flickering flame of the lamp. They’d find themselves so captivated by the fire that they couldn’t help but plunge into it. For that one brief moment, that one single instant when they fly into the fire that has captured them completely, they are willing to die… for one brief moment of total consummation.
Some people live an entire lifetime for nothing; some live for one brief moment, and live forever because of it. The world calls it madness. I think it’s really called passion. And it lies at the foundation of that thing we sometimes refer to as our “calling” or “vocation”. To others it may seem absurd, having neither logic nor reason. But to those who have found it, the only logic it has is the logic of a heart that has fallen in love with one’s “one sure thing”, just as Mary did.
What is your passion? What drives you? What sets you on fire such that you’d be willing to give your entire self to it? What powers your vision such that you’d be willing to commit your whole life to it, allow yourself to be consumed by it, and if need be, give your life for it? Find it, and when you do, go for it, with your whole heart, because doing so would be worth more than an entire lifetime.
I think I may have found mine. It’s called, “knowledge”, not “studies”, not “education”, but “knowledge”. Some find it odd, others find it a waste of precious time that could be spent doing other things. But this is where I have been led to Christ, and have led others to him. It may or may not be yours, for we are all different. But like Mary and Martha, the invitation is the same. Find your “one sure thing”, your “pearl of great price”. Look for it with all your heart, and when you find it, give it everything you’ve got. For at the end of the road, you’ll find Jesus there, waiting for you.