C Cycle – 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time 19
Lk. 20: 38-42
The story of Marth and Mary is one of those familiar stories in the scriptures. It is one we hear and mentally we begin to question who is doing the right thing. Many believe Martha was doing the right thing and did not deserve the treatment she received from Jesus.
Obviously, the story points to Mary as doing the right thing but why was sitting at the feet Jesus the “better part.” Compare this story with the story we heard from the Old Testament about Abraham and how he jumps into action offering hospitality to the “three visitors.” I believe each of us would do the same thing as Martha when we have visitors in our homes. We offer our guest drinks, food, make them comfortable and do all we can to make sure their needs are taken care of while they are with us.
It appears that neither Martha nor Mary knew he was coming so let’s consider it is a surprise visit. If that happened to us, we would spring into action and quickly inventory our food, drinks and spring into action. We would get out our better glasses, cut the cheese, chill the wine, get out the ice for the soft drinks, prepare dip and cut vegetables for snacks. We would make sure they sat in the most comfortable place and we would make sure they felt welcome.
When Jesus appears on the horizon approaching their home, it is Martha who goes out to welcome him. This is exactly what Abraham did in the first reading as the three visitors show up that day as he sat at the entrance of his tent. Just look how quickly he springs into action. He makes them comfortable and makes sure they know they are welcome to stay with us as long as they like. Hospitality is a natural and necessary gift for any Christian. According to Jesus, we must welcome the stranger if we are to inherit eternal life. (Mt. 25:38). This would indicate Martha was doing exactly what she should have been doing, so why does Jesus chastise her.
It is not wrong to do the work of hospitality for it is an important gift and is especially critical in serving new people to our community of faith and reaching out to those searching for a church home. But Martha is an example of how many Christians approach “using their gifts” to serve the church as a means of avoiding a deeper understanding of our call to become disciples. Offering our service to the church is often a distraction, keeping us feeling good about our relationship with and to the church while avoiding a deeper relationship with Jesus.
Martha’s anxiety was created by her activity which centered on pleasing Jesus by her busyness. Ironic isn’t in that the quote from Matthew’s gospel (Chapter 25) about welcoming strangers is preceded by the parables of the ten virgins and their lamps and the parable of the talents. The moral of each of those parables was to make sure we serve the Lord by focusing on Him and His plan for us. We don’t get to waste the opportunity to be doing what the Master expects us to be doing.
How can we know what he expects of us unless we listen to Him. Without listening, we end up doing exactly what Martha did that day. We do exactly what the “goats” do in Matthew’s gospel (Chapter 25). We will miss the opportunity o encounter Christ as the Virgins did and we will bury or talents as the unworthy servant does.
Doing what we want to do for the Kingdom is a common failing for all of us and it is easy to feel like we are doing a great and good work. But unless we take the time to listen to God speak to our hearts, we are the very people Jesus refers to when he said, “out of my sight I never knew you.” Mary has chosen the better part and that means we must take time to sit with Jesus and listen to Him.
Mary was not being lazy, nor was she ignoring the need to make sure the guests in her home were taken care of. Jesus obviously had something for the community of Bethany to hear and chose to deliver that message in the home of Martha and Mary. We do not know how many servants were in the service of Martha and Mary, but we would expect that since Jesus chose their home it would have been big enough to gather a crowd, thus they would have had servants. That day, Martha uses her service as a distraction, helping her feel good about what she is doing for Jesus but at the same time avoiding the call of Jesus to a deeper response to His presence.
Mary is not avoiding using her talents to serve those seeking Jesus, nor is she being passive in her quest to deepen her relationship with Jesus. She is showing us how to be active in seeking Jesus by putting ourselves in the presence of Jesus. Jesus told you and I the thing we must do before we serve is to attach ourselves to Him. To be centered on Jesus and to invite the Holy Spirit into our lives to teach us, to open our minds to understand the scriptures and to transform us so we are equipped to go out and to the very works of building the kingdom.
This means we have a choice to use the gift of hospitality to build a rapport with people seeking Jesus and then invite them to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to Him. We are to bring people to Jesus by how well we serve them and by well we have embraced the gospel message of forgiveness and mercy offered to us by God. We are called to holiness according to God’s plan not our own concept of holiness and we will never be able to serve God if we use our gifts as a distraction keeping us comfortable without encountering Jesus