Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
Theme: ONE THING NECESSARY
By: Fr. Gerald Musa
Homily for Sunday July 21 2019
The tennis coach will always yell at us saying, keep your eyes on the ball, and stay focused. He is right. His words can be applied to every facet of life. We live in an age of distractions. We are becoming more and more distracted my many things, which are taking away our attention from the essential.
The book of Genesis and the Gospel of Luke narrate two stories about hospitality. The first story is about Abraham who welcomed three guests. Abraham knew that the essence of welcoming visitors is to make them comfortable and keep them company. He asked Sarah to prepare a meal with a good and tender calf and with curds and milk and set all these before his guests. He stood by them under the tree while they ate.
The second story is about Martha and Mary who received Jesus in their house. Mary sat at his feet and listened to his teaching. “But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.”
There seems to be a contrast between Abraham’s approach to his guests and the approach of Martha to her guests. Abraham was up and running to make his guests comfortable, but after he had served them he stood by them and waited on them; Martha made every effort to serve Jesus and she demonstrated a good sense of hospitality. However, in the process of rendering service to the guest, she was distracted and complained about her sister who sat at the feet of Jesus. A well-known interpretation of the story of Mary and Martha comes from Origen, a Father of the early Church and a foremost commentator of scripture. He presents Martha as a symbol of active life and Mary as a contemplative life.
Beside Origen’s commendable interpretation, we can also interpret the story of this two sisters as something to do with setting our priorities right. For most of us today, God is at the bottom of our priority list. Our priorities are reversed in such a way that work and business are at the top, family second, while God and spiritual growth are relegated to the bank bench. It was St. Augustine who says, “Christ is not valued at all, unless he is valued above all.” We can easily tell what position we place God in our daily list of things to do. Do we reserve prime time of the day for him; do we give him up to one hour of the day in prayer and meditation? Are we conscious of his presence in all that we do?
Jesus did not rebuke Martha for her dedication to service; he rebuked Martha for worrying over many things instead of concentrating on the essential thing, which is listening to him. It was a gentle rebuke from Jesus. Therefore, we must not be hard on Martha in our criticism. A scripture scholar made an interesting remark about the story of Mary and Martha. He says, “If we censure Martha too harshly, she may abandon service altogether and if we commend Mary too profusely, she may sit there forever.” This is to say that we should not exaggerate the roles of these two women. Martha’s sense of service was commendable, but she was serving and grumbling.
Jesus says Mary has chosen the better part. That essential part is to seek first the kingdom of heaven (God’s peace, love and grace), before anything else. Jesus describes the kingdom of God as the essential thing that is worth giving up every other thing. Mary sought for that peace of God as a dear yearning for running waters and as a soul that is desperately thirsty for God, like a dry and thirsty land.
Listening to God, to Jesus is more important than anything else. In the midst of a frenetic lifestyle, we must not let activities overshadow our spiritual life. The one thing necessary is to be attuned to the presence of the Lord. In his Confession, St. Augustine lamented about his past life, saying, “And behold, you were within me, and I out of myself, and there I searched for you.” God was present in his life, but he was absent and preoccupied with so many other things.
Basically the story of Mary and Martha teaches us about the importance of setting our priorities right. There are many things that are important, but in the midst of many important things there is one thing that supersedes all. That one thing is the consciousness of the presence of God in all that we do; it is being with God. The main thing in life is to keep the main thing the main thing.
16th Sunday of the Year C; Genesis 18:1-10a; Colossians 1:24-28; Luke 10:38-42