Archive for Work

Augustine on Mary, Martha, work and joy

Posted in Theology with tags , , , , on May 24, 2011 by stephengardner

Our Lord Jesus Christ, then, will hand over the kingdom to God and the Father (1 Cor 15:24)–and that phrase excludes neither the Holy Spirit nor himself–insofar as he will bring believers to the direct contemplation of God, in which all good actions have their end, and there is everlasting rest and joy that shall not be taken away from us. He points this out himself when he says, I shall see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no one shall take away from you (Jn 16:22). A sort of picture of what this joy will be like was sketched by Mary sitting at the Lord’s feet, intent upon his words; at rest from all activity and intent upon the truth, in such measure as this life allows of, but thereby nonetheless foreshadowing that joy which is going to last forever. There was Martha her sister, busy doing what had to be done–activity which though good and useful is going to end one day and give place to rest. She, meanwhile, was already taking her rest in the word of the Lord. So when Martha complained that her sister was not helping her, the lord replied Mary has chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her (Lk 10:38). He did not call what Martha was doing a bad part, but this which shall not be taken away he called the best part. For the part which is played in ministering to need will be taken away when need comes to an end, and in fact the reward of good works that are going to come to an end is a rest that will endure. In that contemplation, then, God will be all in all (1 Cor 15:28), because nothing further will be desired of him; to be illumined and rejoiced by him will be enough. (Saint Augustine, De Trinitate, I.20)

I love Augustine’s perspective on this story. A life of inactivity and rest is not what Jesus advocates, rather, a life spent longing for and anticipating the fullness of our joy and desire in the Lord, when he will be all in all. As long as we wait for that day there will be needs to meet and work to be done and keeping busy with those things is a good thing, but let it never be that we forget the fullness of joy we anticipate when Jesus returns to be with us.