21 July 2013. 16th Sunday of Year C.
Gen 18:1-10. Welcoming the strangers, Abraham was really in the presence of God.
Col 1:24-28. Paul suffers for his converts as part of his ministry of calling them to salvation.
Lk 10:38-42. The welcomes offered by the sisters, Martha and Mary, in Bethany.
Jesus wants us not to be too caught up in mundane things, like Martha. Like Mary we try to set aside our everyday worries and anxieties and sit quietly with Our Lord, to listen to him.
First Reading: Genesis 18:1-10
The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on-since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.”
Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.” Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him.
Second Reading: Colossians1:24-28
I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.
Gospel: Luke 10:38-42
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him 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.” But the Lord answered her, “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.”
A House of Hospitality
Wouldn’t we love if somebody could unearth a whole volume of stories about Martha, Mary and Lazarus; but today’s episode and the raising of Lazarus (John 11) are the only ones we have. Still, even these two stories let us see Jesus in a family context, in everyday domestic scenes among people that he loved and who clearly loved him. The parents of Martha and Mary were presumably dead, since we hear nothing about them. The two women were clearly in love with Jesus and he treated them with respect and affection. In this story Jesus is not saying that one should not wait on guests. He is rather saying that more important than waiting on them is enjoying them and loving them. We should never be so busy that we have no time for love.
Our Irish tradition laid great store by hospitality, a practice somewhat harder to keep up in a busy urban setting, but one that we would do well to keep alive, and even revive to a higher level. We are more likely to encounter the grace of God when welcoming visitors to our home, than just by sitting watching television!
Listening to Him
“What is man that you care for him,” the Psalmist asks God to explain (Ps 4:8), “or mortal man that you keep him in mind?” It has been said that when it comes to discovering the meaning of human life and of our existence in this world, most of us are like pygmies, who travel on the backs of the giants who have gone before us. In other words the number of people who were able to stand back, as it were, and try to see human striving, endeavour, hardship, in meaningful terms, is small indeed. The majority of us are willing to go along in varying degrees with their discoveries, as they filter down to us through different channels.
God’s Message, the theme running through today’s readings, comes to us in more or less the same way. Some chosen individuals seem able to grasp in a wonderful way God’s message for the human race, and have shared that knowledge with the rest of us. So the Word of God came to Abraham, not as something abstract, needing to be found in books; for there were no books then, but rather a tradition of faith handed on orally and finally committed to scrolls. Abraham’s encounter with God was on a personal plane. He was the friend of God, the Bible says, and his welcome for the Messengers of God has all the merits of eastern nomadic hospitality.
Abraham is a supreme example of deep-rooted faith and trust in God. Called by God to leave his own clan, he left off worshipping their gods and set out for an unknown destination. In return God promised he would become the father of a new and numerous people. Abraham trusted and followed this call, even when there seemed little hope that this promise would ever be fulfilled. When they had practically given up hope, he again hears that his wife will bear a son, and again he trusts in God’s word. And later still, when Isaac was born Abraham was asked to sacrifice this precious son. It he carried out this grim command, how could the promise of God evercome true? But Abraham’s trust in God never wavered, and in the end was vindicated. It was for this faith that Abraham was justified in God’s sight, and this faith was passed on to his children and to all believers, including ourselves.
As we saw in the gospel, God’s Message came in person to Mary, the sister of Martha, and we see her vibrant relationship with God in Christ. On one level, we feel sorry for Martha, being left to do the household work on her own, but the key value here is that our listening to God, our attentiveness to Christ must never be drowned out by the bustle of our everyday lives. Then, in the reading from St Paul we are told how the Word of God, hidden from all mankind for centuries, comes to the gentiles.
Only one thing really matters in the hurly-burly of our modem world, that we always make space for God in our lives, that we reach out and grasp the message which God is continually presenting to us, that we make it our own, and that we allow it to guide and shape us, as we live and as we hope to die, in fulfilment of God’s wishes for us.
Which is the Better Part?
It is hard not to feel sympathy for Martha. It was her house after all, not Mary’s, and she would naturally want to show it at its best. The trouble with her – as with over-anxious people in general – was that she could view things only from her own angle and became annoyed when others wished to follow a different course. She does not see is that to be a good host, we have to forget ourselves and focus on what our visitor wants from us.
Martha loved Jesus as much as Mary did, and it is clear that he treasured them both. Her mistake was in not trying to find out how Jesus wanted to be entertained, while visiting her house. Her sister correctly senses that when Jesus comes on a visit the last thing he wants is to have people fussing over how to feed him. So, while Martha makes the greater housekeeping effort, Mary understands better what is expected of her by him. Her contemplative intuition grasps instinctively the real reason for Jesus’ visit. He is there not to receive but to give, not to be served but to serve. He has something he needs to say and the one thing necessary is to listen to his voice.
We have here a whole theology of contemplation, of how to receive the Lord’s visit. It starts off from the basis that, no matter who our visitors may be, there is always something to be learned, something to be gained from them. The one who comes knocking on our door will have something to tell us, should be listened to and understood. After a demanding and frustrating confrontation with today’s scribes and Pharisees, Jesus comes to visit his friends, in an atmosphere of ease. He comes to talk to us in the quiet of the evening or the freshness of the morning, to share with us the Word that brings us to salvation. He comes not because he needs us but because we need him. We too can be “distracted with all the serving;” we too can “worry and fret about so many things.” We may, like Martha, miss the better part, the one thing necessary, which is to submit to the Word of Christ.
The world is made up of Martha’s and Mary’s – the doers and the dreamers – and it would seem the former are far more numerous than the latter. The industrial and commercial society of today places a huge premium on achievement. It is results that count. Targets are set for production and sales and only those who achieve or surpass them are rewarded. Captains of industry everywhere are pushing hard to have pay related to production. Their message is “shape up or ship out.” And those who can’t or won’t are made redundant. We live in Martha’s world.
It is ironic that Christ’s followers so seldom show his marked preference for the Marys of this world. They toiled away in their garrets, often in poverty, elaborating their dreams and bringing to birth a better world for future generations. Mercifully, we still have our dreamers. The message of today’s gospel is that we, like our Master, should cherish such dreamers. It is the poets and prophets, writers and thinkers, philosophers and mystics, who like Mary, have chosen the better part.