The Necessary Thing

22 July 2007 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Genesis 18, 1-10a and Luke 10, 38-42: Martha & Mary

It is good to know that Jesus have real and personal friends. We hear from Luke that Mary, Martha and Lazarus were brothers and sisters who had a house in Bethany. Bethany was located on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives on the road linking Jerusalem to Jericho, around 30 mins walk. Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived together in a house owned by Martha (Luke said that Martha welcomed the Lord in her house). Their house was very near the Garden of Gethsemane, whom the Lord frequented for prayer while he and his disciples were in the vicinity of Jerusalem. Thus, the house of Mary, Martha and Lazarus was a convenient place to stay when the troupe of Jesus visited Jerusalem for any Jewish festival or on some other event.

The two women dealt with their special guest, Jesus, in two ways: Martha did all the preparing and the cooking; while Mary listened to him. Martha then asked Jesus to ask Mary to help her. Here, the point of the Gospel is highlighted: the good portion is hearing the Word of God. The Greek word for hearing is kouein which is better translated as ‘listening favorably’. Thus it is not just any kind of hearing, but a favorable listening: interested, involved, and engrossed.

Many believers sadly make the conclusion that there is a conflict between our secular needs and our spiritual growth. Many think that we have to choose between listening to the Lord like Mary or serving the Lord like Martha. We only need a little imagination. If there were only two people in the house, and a guest arrives, one has to take either role: one has to prepare some food for the guest, and the other should do the entertaining. Both roles are part of welcoming a stranger or a friend. It is hospitality at its best.

Even Abraham in the first reading took the role of Martha. On the arrival of three guests, Abraham told them to rest while he prepared food for them and a basin of water for washing their feet. He instructed Sarah to make bread; a servant to prepare a steer* from the herd; and he himself fetched some curds and milk for the strangers.

Good things can fill our lives to the point that we neglect our souls. God gave us many good things like our families, friends, talents, jobs. He has given us opportunities for service and leadership. He has paved the way for us to belong to a certain group. But these good things must not be used as an excuse to abandon some time with Him. In a hectic day, a few moments of listening favorably to Him; a few minutes conversing with him as you walk from the Economics Building to Palma Hall, or even as you wait for the Philcoa jeep to take you to your destination.

The question then is about priorities. The word used is the ‘better portion’: therefore, our daily routine is a part of our faith life, but our relationship with God should be the wellspring of all our actions. Our relationship with God gives meaning, purpose and inspiration to our daily work. It is what wakes us up in the morning; influences our decisions; gives us a sense of direction; or contains the stuff of our loving. Jesus said that our love for our neighbor comes from our love for God.

This gives us a balanced approach to serving God.

*a steer is a castrated bull.

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