16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s Gospel passage recounts the familiar story of Jesus’ visit to the home of Martha and Mary. Martha, who is busy about the house, tells Jesus to admonish Mary for her lack of “hospitality”, but finds herself being admonished herself. The story of Martha and Mary shows the futility of active service when it is not based upon attentive listening to God’s word.
Jesus was a close friend of this household, and he came here to stay a while and offer more comforting words of life. Martha tried to make him feel at home, and wanted also to pepare something nice for him to eat. She had already been at work long before Jesus arrived without much help from Mary. When the Lord appeared, whatever help Mary had been giving to Martha came to an abrupt halt, and she sat at Jesus’ feet to listen to his words. She wanted to be fed by Jesus more than to feed him. She wanted to learn more and more about the things of God. She wanted to be one of his most diligent pupils. The Jewish scribes had no time for women and refused to explain the law to them. She now had this excelent opportunity, and wanted to take advantage of it. What could easily be judged an act of laziness on her part must be seen as a highly symbolic act. Mary takes the position of a disciple at the feet of the Master.
Martha did not seem to like this. She was very busy peparing some food and thought that Mary should give her a hand. Turning to Jesus, she said: Lord,... tell her to help me. But Jesus must have surprised her: Martha, Martha, you are anxious about many thins; one thing only is required. Mary has chosen the better portion. The one thing is not what Mary does in contrast to what Martha is doing, but the essential aspect of Martha’s work are the many things over which she is troubled. Martha is neither praised nor condemned, but she is challenged to consider her priorities. The kitchen is not unimportant, but Jesus’ Word is all important. We must attend to the necessary things in life; but excessive worry about these earthly realities must not distract us from the Word of God, the main thing.
Martha’s main fault is not that she works too hard, but rather that she misses the meaning and importance of what Mary is doing. She is so absorbed with the meal preparation that her activity becomes more important than anything else. We sometimes think that Jesus is being unfair to Martha as he repproaches her for all the hustle and bustle. But he cares so much for her that he wants Martha to question all the work se does, because it might deprive her from ever finding herself at his feet, intent on learning from him what she will never be able to get from any other source.
Both Martha and Mary love Jesus, but each one shows it in a different way. Jesus says simply that Mary has chosen the better part. Jesus did not reproach Martha for her work, but rather for not listening to him as attentively as Mary did. He is open to the two of them and loves them both. He sees them as faithful disciples and wants them to understand that they must be attentive to his teaching. And, if the true preparation for the afterlife is found in contemplation, we can see better why Jesus called Mary’s part the better one.
Many present-day Catholics seem to have no time for the Word of God. They never read it and, when they go to church, they seem to be restless and anxious to leave as soon as possible. May the Lord show us the relative worth of some of the activities that we judge important, but about which we might be as wrong as Martha was. May it be said that we, too, have chosen the better part by listening willingly and attentively to the Word of God, the contemplation of which may be already the beginning of what our eternal occupation would be in heaven.