16th Sunday of Year (C)
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, if you remember, last Sunday’s Gospel reading about the Good Samaritan taught us that love of neighbour should be the norm of any authentic Christian life; and St. Luke now continues in today’s Gospel reading to tell us how Martha and Mary expressed their love for their very near and very dear friend, Jesus of Nazareth. This is of supreme importance for us since all love of neighbour must spring from love of God and Jesus is uniquely our Neighbour, being both our God and our nearest and dearest Friend, Who comes closer to us in Holy Communion than any other can possibly do.
Yes, in the Eucharistic Sacrifice Jesus, by the power of the Spirit and out of love and obedience for His Father, gives Himself entirely to us and for us. Oh! How our Catholic and Christian faith reaches to the very marrow of our human life and being! For, as life in human society would teach us, the greatest sign of love for another is not doing things for people, but giving oneself to or for them. One can have friends who would gladly and generously do things for us, but only one spouse or supreme friend who will actually give themselves to us or for us. Again, one can pay many to do things for us, but if one were to try to pay such a spouse or friend for their gift of love, then it would be a great insult.
Martha was intent on doing something for Jesus; Mary was so taken up with Jesus’ presence and teaching that she forgot everything else: she forgot her own self and her own sister’s expectations and opinion as she sat engrossed. listening to His words.
The Catholic Church has always had, fundamentally, a very concrete response to her Lord and Saviour, and that is why she has always considered and taught that the contemplative life – one given over entirely in love and attention to Jesus – is a supreme manifestation of Christian love, and her Tradition has always seen this story of Martha and Mary as teaching and vindicating that attitude.
Martha was a capable and industrious woman who loved Our Lord. She seized every opportunity to do things for Him. Mary also loved Our Lord but she was more inclined to:
Sit at the Lord’s feet and listen to His teaching.
To sit at the feet of an authoritative person was to be that person’s pupil, disciple, as St. Paull tells us that he, as a young Jew:
Was brought up at the feet of Gamaliel and educated according to the strict manner of the Law of our fathers. (Acts 22:3)
Martha was concerned about Jesus’ physical needs most especially as she saw them affecting her. Mary, on the other hand, had forgotten all about herself as she heard Jesus’ teaching which demanded her listening.
Do you remember how King David, once securely settled on his throne, thought that now he would do something for Israel’s God: he would build God a proper house to dwell in, a splendid new temple. However, God sent the prophet Nathan to remind David who was who. He, God, would build David a house; as for Himself being offered a temple He had not asked for, that could come later when it would be given more appropriately. You noticed, I trust, that there had been a measure of condescension in David’s attitude to the Lord and Master of All?
Mary, however, had no such tendency to forget her place before the Lord: He was the One giving as He spoke, she was the needy one who should listen with love and gratitude.
For Jesus was not just sitting around waiting for something to eat; no, He was teaching everyone in the house and although Martha would not consciously say that such teaching was not for her, nevertheless, her basic attitude was showing itself, was being revealed. She loved Our Lord, undoubtedly, but with a tendency to make Him dependent on her, not really and certainly not fully, realizing her need of Him. And what was making things worse was the fact that Mary was not following her lead as the elder sister! Martha obviously thought that there would be time enough when the food had been given and the household work finished … though we may suspect that Martha was one of those persons whose work is never finished.
Jesus, fully aware of Martha’s emotional involvement, urged her to get her priorities right, by saying quite bluntly the simple and necessary truth … how many Bishops and priests water down the Faith by trying to make things sound nice, fearing they might possibly offend listeners by proclaiming the Faith truth-fully!! …
Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.
Dear People of God, as we continue with this Mass let us pray that we may love Our Lord truly as did both Martha and Mary; let us also pray that -- with Mary - we may never allow ourselves to be distracted by the cares of this world, above all by self-imposed and self-satisfying tasks that are not part of God’s plan; let us pray too that we may ever be ready both to listen when He speaks to us and work when He calls on us; and finally, let us beseech our heavenly Father that, as His true children in Jesus by His Spirit, we may come to ultimately experience the joy of finding that we too have chosen the better part.