A brother went to see Abba Silvanus on the mountain of Sinai. When he saw the brothers working hard, he said to the old man, “Do not labor for the food that perishes. Mary has chosen the good portion.”
The old man said to a disciple, “Zacharias, give the brother a book, and put him in a cell without anything else.”
So when the ninth hour came, this brother watched the door, expecting someone would be sent to call him to the meal. When no one called him, he got up, went to find the old man, and said to him, “Have the brothers not eaten today?”
The old man replied that they had.
Then he said, “Why did you not call me?”
The old man said to him, “Because you are a spiritual man and do not need that kind of food. We, being carnal, want to eat, and that is why we work. But you have chosen the good portion and read the whole day long, and you do not want to eat carnal food.”
When he heard these words, the brother made a prostration, saying, “Forgive me, Abba.”
The old man said to him, “Mary needs Martha. It is really thanks to Martha that Mary is praised.”
Source: Michal Bar-Asher Siegal
Early Christian Monastic Literature and the Babylonian Talmud
(Cambridge University Press, 2013) page 96
Read Luke 10:38-42
Often Martha has been cast as a type of the active Christian, the Christian at work in the world, and Mary as a type of the passive Christian, withdrawn from the world in the quest for prayer and contemplation.
Is it better to be a Mary or a Martha? In other words, Is it better to pray or to play? Serve or Sacrifice? What do you think?
Going beyond the Mary-Martha dichotomy, consider the relative merits, if any, of active service vis-à-vis quiet devotion.
Shifting from an “either-or” to a “both-and” point of view, do you think it’s possible to be a Mary in a Martha world? How do you imagine yourself being a contemplative in action?