Homily for October 4th, 2016: Luke 10:38-42.
It seems terribly unfair, doesn=t it? Even a child can see that it is not right to sit making pleasant conversation with a guest while leaving your sister all alone in the kitchen. How can we make sense of the story?
We can never make sense of it if we read it as a lesson in the duties of hospitality. It immediately follows Jesus= parable of the Good Samaritan. In that story Jesus contrasts the behavior of two members of the Jewish clergy, a priest and a Levite, with the behavior of a despised outsider, the Samaritan. Though he lacked the knowledge of God=s law available to the priest and the Levite, the Samaritan fulfilled the law=s spirit better than the legal experts. The parable shows the futility of a religion which has no consequences in daily life.
Today=s story of Mary and Martha turns that lesson around. It shows the futility of active service which, because it is not based on attentive listening to God=s word, and nourished by such listening, becomes mere busyness. When Jesus says to Martha, AYou are anxious and worried about many things,@ he is not criticizing her for performing the duties of hospitality, but for doing so without first attending to his word. Martha, we might say, is the kind of person who likes to go about doing good, especially the kind of good that requires a lot of going about.
The story in today=s gospel does not ask us to choose between being a Mary or a Martha. The true disciple of Jesus must be both. Mark=s gospel tells us that when Jesus called his twelve apostles, he called them for a dual purpose: Ato be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message@ (Mk 3:14). Which is more important: to be with Jesus, or to proclaim his message others? Our relationship with the Lord must come first. Being with the Lord and listening his word must be the basis of all we do for him.
When we act without listening, we are guilty of a subtle kind of pride. We are assuming that we already know what must be done, and need no guidance. Acting without first attending to God=s word can mean doing what we want to do, not what God, or the situation, requires of us. The remedy is to sit at the Lord=s feet, like Mary of Bethany in today=s gospel, and listen to his word. Jesus praises this attentive, patient listening because it requires humility B and faith.
So we need to spend time with the Lord, waiting on him in prayer, and listening to his holy word, proclaimed here at the Eucharist, or read for ourselves; and listening also to the Church=s teaching about our own lives, and about the life of the world around us. Whenever we do this we are like Mary of Bethany. To people without faith, sitting at the Lord=s feet and listening to his words seems a waste of time. We who live by faith, however, know that the Lord loves to have us waste our time on him. Doing so is the best thing we can do with our time. It is the Abetter part@, as Jesus calls it in today=s gospel, which will not be taken from us. Spending time with Jesus Christ, opening our hearts and minds to his words, we receive strength to live, as we shall receive also one day courage to die.