In the Gospel today, we see Martha busy with the chores of serving her guest while her sister Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. Probably in her frustration of being left to entertain her guest, she came to Jesus and asked Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me. Did Martha and Mary already know Jesus at that time, that Martha was able to demand Jesus to tell Mary to help her? We can only guess. But we know that before his death, John tells us Jesus loved this family. In any case, Jesus answers: Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things: there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her. What was Mary doing? She was so focused on Jesus, she did not care about serving Jesus. This episode shows us while there is a need to serve Jesus, the only one thing according to Jesus is what Mary was doing: sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.
Traditionally, this is a comparison of the contemplative and the active life. But if we look at this, Jesus is not saying there is a conflict between the two lifestyles which made some conclude the contemplative life is better than the active life. The interpretation of this goes beyond this though. What Jesus is saying is sitting at his feet and listening to what he says is the one thing needed. We may be active in our ministry, but if we do not listen to Jesus, we will run out of steam. We may sit at the Lord’s feet, but if we do not listen to him, then that time is also not used properly. The important thing is listening to Jesus.
This is what Paul meant in the First Reading, that after Jesus was revealed to him, he did not talk to any human being. Instead, he went to Arabia and after that returned to Damascus. What Paul is saying is his knowledge was not taken from any human being but from his prayers. While we believe what Paul learned was from the Spirit, Paul was careful to verify his message with Peter (or Cephas) when he went to Jerusalem to meet Peter. This need for confirmation of the message he preached shows the importance of Apostolic authority in the preaching of the Gospel. At that time, there was no New Testament written so Paul had to rely on the authority of Peter and James. This shows that Sacred Tradition, or the Apostolic tradition came before Scripture and therefore is the basis for interpreting Scripture.
Lord, help me to respect the teaching authority of the Catholic Church that I may learn your Truth and interpret Scripture as you have handed it to the Apostles and their successors.