16th Sunday 2013 C
The story of Mary and Martha tends to irritate the listener. You have these two sisters. One of them, Martha, takes the opportunity to welcome Jesus into their home. The other, Mary, as soon as Jesus comes in, sits down at his feet and seems to hang on his every word.
So what is Martha to do? Sit down too, and let the stew boil over? If she also rests at Jesus’ feet, who is going to serve? How will they eat? What will they have? Nothing will get done.
Then Jesus seems to take Mary’s side, telling Martha that she frets and bothers about many things and that Mary has chosen the better part by just lounging and doing nothing.
I suspect that Martha might have retorted: “O.K., you two make the dinner, set out the meal, and clean up the place. I’m tired of working and being unappreciated.”
Of course, our irritation with this passage reveals why Jesus sees fit to chide the Martha in each of us. He spots the resentment that rises when I think that others are not doing their share—especially when I am so dutifully doing mine.He wanted Martha to see that she had allowed anxiety and stress to control her more than simplicity and love. He wanted her to see that she lost her temper because she had lost her perspective. In situations like that, my response in fact does not come from a heart of generosity but a brooding “poor me”.
Can I like Sarah with her warm bread, choice meats, and fresh milk, go about my tasks knowing that they, too, are a celebration of the presence of God? My work is no longer something exacted of me, toil grudgingly given. Rather, can my work flow freely, as a response of thanks for the great gift of life?
I can’t let the Martha in my mind, distract me. Nor do I feel any need to complain to God that others around are not following my agenda. Can I live with peace that I am true to myself? Let me determine Lord that I will not complain that I am doing it all by myself.
I realize that my annoyance with the story of Mary and Martha is not about the value of work, but about the way we work. Martha need not stop the labor. I need not stop the labor. I just need to stop the fuss and comparisons.
When Jesus says that Mary “has chosen the better part”, we cannot see this as a denial of the importance of serving the physical needs of others. If this were so how could Jesus in our readings of last Sunday, have praised the Samaritan for all his acts of mercy.
While Jesus says that Mary has the “better part,” this doesn’t necessarily mean that listening to Jesus is either the only or the easier part. Listening to Jesus with a heart truly able to hear is difficult, indeed.
A friend of Mark Twain was trying to explain why he had stopped going to church. "There are too many things," he said, "in the Scriptures which I just do not understand." Mr Twain with a twinkle in his eye responded, "You know, it's not the stuff that I do not understand that bothers me. It's all those things I do understand." Listening to Jesus is the“better part” only when it leads us to serve and teach, as Jesus himself did. The “one thing necessary” is the sincere desire to seek the kingdomof Godbefore all else.
There is another dimension to the response of Christ regarding Mary’s place. Martha understood the place of women in their society. Like Sarah in the first reading, women were to bear children and cook the meals. Sarah remained in the tent. They were to clean the house, like Martha was doing, and they were not to sit at the feet of the master educating themselves, like Mary was doing. Martha demands that Mary be made to ‘play the woman,’ but Jesus refused to go along with the stereotype:Mary has chosen the better portion and she shall not be deprived of it.
We know there is more awareness of injustice to women in our society, yet a long way to go for equality economically as well as status. We discover horrific prejudice against individuals because of Gender in our world. Even abortion based on Gender selection. The example of the young sixteen year old Pakistani lady Malala, who is recovering from a bullet to the head, merely because she was promoting the right of education for females, is a case in point.
The story of Abraham and the three visitors reveals another dimension of what it means to welcome the Lord. Hospitality is finding a balance. It is not so much doing things for people but offering an atmosphere of freedom; offering friendship without smothering, freedom without abandonment.
The guest has needs that you can serve, but the guest also has gifts that will enrich you.The three guests of Abraham and Sarah came with a great gift, a promise of God that they would conceive a child. Who gave and who received most?
I would like to ask the question: When Fr. Garry came into our midst a few weeks ago, what was your reaction? Fr. Garry is the stranger. He is different. He is Metis, his mother being Aboriginal. He is proud of his roots. Our sacred author is convinced that one way readers can demonstrate they are dedicated to carrying out Yahweh’s will is to extend hospitality to strangers.
Abraham and Sarah are presented as people to be imitated. Notice the three men don’t even have time to ask for hospitality. When Abraham “saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them and serve their every need.
The message is clear: Offering hospitality to strangers is one of the most important things a follower of God can do. Only after the meal do Abraham and Sarah discover who the three men are actually. The Genesis author is convinced that hospitality always leads to a discovery of dimensions of God that we hadn’t noticed before. You will learn to discover God and know yourself in a new way through Fr. Garry’s ministry here.
“Every time I meet a new person I should ask, ‘Is this the person God has put in my life to help me better understand myself?” Until we’ve offered hospitality to all the strangers who constantly cross through our lives, there are aspects of God we’ve yet to find.