16th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Luke 10:38-42
People readily identify with Martha, recognizing her busyness and pragmatism; it can easily seem to be a worthy and acceptable role even as Jesus asserts that it is not the better place. Help me, Lord, not to settle for what satisfies me and makes me feel justified; give me to grace to want only what you want.
Not mindfully attentive to her tasks, Martha became critical of Jesus and Mary. I ask for the ability to be present to how God is present in me and in others. Even if there is much to be done right now, I hear the invitation to sit at Jesus’ feet and to listen to his teaching. What is the meaning of Jesus’ words to Martha?
Certainly not that listening is better than doing, for throughout the Gospel Jesus insists that listening without doing is worthless. He gently chides Martha about being too distracted and fretting about so many things that she risks losing sight of what is really important. We live in a world that is always so full of distractions. I ask the Lord to grant me insight into my own lifestyle, to know how to choose the better part that will not be taken from me.
The friendship between Jesus and the family at Bethany – Martha, Mary and Lazarus – is beautifully described in the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of John. It is a household where Jesus is warmly, even intimately, welcomed. This is less evident in today’s reading from Luke, which speaks rather of the tension in the household, as a result of the unfair division of labor between the two sisters. All of us can recognize this scenario! It is important not to lose sight of the domestic ordinariness; delightful, even if this is a moment of tension.
Most significant in this story is the attitude taken by Mary, sitting attentively at the feet of Jesus listening to what he was saying. As a true disciple, Mary recognizes that Jesus has far more to offer her in terms of spiritual nourishment than she or Martha can offer him. Each of us has to find the balance between service of the Kingdom and moments of serious attentiveness to God. Both the active and contemplative dimensions of Christian life are necessary.
In the traditional interpretation of this gospel, prayer and action are pitted against each other. Or, we could see it as food versus the communion of spirits. We can afford to do with less food or, to go without food for a time. We can never afford to be unaware of the deeper mysteries. Sometimes we go the opposite way. We don’t miss a meal but we do forget to stop for a few moments to dip into the depths of being quiet and totally present?