Let us look at the text. Martha (a widow? She had her own house!) and Mary (not the Magdalene) had a brother Lazarus and they lived at Bethany, (Jesus is steadfastly approaching Jerusalem. He is very close.) Jesus used to spend his precious spare time with his special friends. Martha is in the kitchen. Mary is with Jesus “sitting at his feet and listening to him”.
Martha starts complaining. “Do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do the serving all by myself. Tell her to help me.” I think this is the key and I offer a simple explanation of Jesus’ words. “Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about many things, yet few are needed, indeed only one”.
Do you remember the story in the Gospel of the Brother who asked Jesus to settle an inheritance dispute? “Tell my brother……….” (Lk 12:13). The simple fact is Jesus does not take second hand messages. When you or I or Martha tell Jesus to speak to someone else about a dispute, he does not butt into the argument. It is as simple as that. We are all guilty of praying to Jesus that he will tell someone else to do this or that. IT IS CALLED MANIPULATION. I once made up a story of the lady who constantly prayed that her husband would stop drinking. He drank every day because it kept her praying!!
I don’t think Jesus is talking about contemplative prayer being more important than housework! If it means that to you, that is fine. Jesus is telling Martha that he doesn’t take second hand messages. Leave other people’s faults out of your prayer time. The Lord will help you to change yourself. Your worrying and your fretting about many things are of concern to Jesus. The one thing that is important is of interest to Jesus. To address your prayer with the words “do you not care” is an insult to the most caring person ever.
It is nice how Jesus corrects a friend without rancor but with firmness. I suggest that if your prayer contains the first name of a family member whom you wish to correct, watch out. If it contains the words “Tell them to do this or that”, change the prayer to “Lord, change me.”