Background on the Gospel Reading
The story of Jesus in the home of Martha and Mary complements the story of the Good Samaritan, which immediately precedes it in Luke’s Gospel. Both stories are unique to Luke. The story of the Samaritan opens with the words “a certain man.” Today’s reading opens with the words “a certain woman.” The Samaritan is an example of how a disciple should see and act. Mary is an example of how a disciple should listen. Mary, a woman, is a marginalized person in society, like the Samaritan. Both do what is not expected of them. As a woman, Mary would be expected, like Martha, to prepare hospitality for a guest. Here again Jesus breaks with the social conventions of his time. Just as a Samaritan would not be a model for neighborliness, so a woman would not sit with the men around the feet of a teacher.
Both stories exemplify how a disciple is to fulfill the dual command which begins chapter 10—love of God (Mary) and love of neighbor (the Samaritan). These are the two essentials of life in the kingdom. By using the examples of a Samaritan and a woman, however, Jesus is saying something more. Social codes and boundaries were strict in Jesus’ time. Yet to love God with all one’s heart and one’s neighbor requires breaking those rules. The Kingdom of God is a society without distinctions and boundaries between its members. It is a society that requires times for seeing and doing and also times for listening and learning at the feet of a teacher.
Gospel: Luke 10:38-42
Martha works; Mary listens
Jesus came to a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. She had a sister called Mary, who sat down at the Lord’s feet and listened to him speaking. Now Martha who was distracted with all the serving said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do the serving all by myself? Please tell her to help me.’ But the Lord answered: ‘Martha, Martha,’ he said ‘you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her.’
Mary and Martha: Getting our priorities right
Am I a Mary or a Martha when it comes to my relationship with Jesus?
This is the story of two sisters.
Mary and Martha were close friends with and followers of Jesus. Together with their brother Lazarus, they hosted Jesus in their home on more than one occasion. Yet, on one such visit from Jesus, they chose two very different actions, and the way that Jesus reacted to their choices is a very valuable lesson for us today. Let’s review the story (Luke 10:38-42):
Martha is worried
Martha was rushing around, serving and doing her best to make everything good for their beloved guest. And where was Mary when Martha needed a hand? She chose to sit at Jesus’ feet, listening as He spoke.
It’s pretty easy to imagine how that made Martha feel. Irritated, frustrated, resentful. Why should she be doing all the work? Wasn’t it only righteous for Mary to be helping out? In fact, Martha felt so justified in her indignation that she went and talked to Jesus about it. “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me,” she said to Him.
But, instead of backing her up in her demand, Jesus rebuked her! “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”
This must have felt like a slap in the face for Martha. Here she was, doing everything in her power to be hospitable and make it good. And Mary just sat there, and what she was doing was the right thing?
Getting our priorities right
It can become so easy for us to get wrapped up in all the things we need to do and the things that need to be accomplished that we lose sight of what the most important thing is. Isn’t it possible that we can get too wrapped up in the cares of life? Jesus makes this even more clear in the parable He told about the sower. “He who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.” Matthew 13:22.
The highest priority in our lives needs to be choosing the good part, as Mary did: to learn of Jesus so that we can become like Him. It’s a love and devotion to Him that makes everything else of secondary importance. It is to seek the riches of wisdom and understanding that are in Him. If we don’t do this, how can we follow Him, how can we be His disciples? Alearns of the Master.
This is not an excuse to be lazy, and not take responsibility for anything. That is another trap entirely. We are to be doers of the Word, and not hearers only! (James 1:22) But what we do has to be led by the Spirit, whose voice we learn to hear by choosing the good part. There is no blessing in running our own lives based on our human understanding of what is important. Mary understood that she needed to learn more of her Master and to seek the things that have eternal value. It’s when we do that that we can be a blessing, because then all of our works are Spirit-driven. Love causes us to listen, to learn, and to keep His commandments. (1 John 5:3)
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” John 10:27.
Take heed to yourself
We can be in danger of falling into the same trap that Martha did. We can be so troubled by what we perceive as negative behavior in others, and become so self-righteous in our good works that we start to judge others for not doing as we do. Satan is the one behind these kinds of thoughts. He whispers lies and accusations, trying to create as much conflict as he can. His aim is to lead people as far in the opposite direction of “the good part” as he possibly can – to lead them away from Jesus. To listen to him and agree with him leads to all kinds of unrest and trouble and worry. We need to slam the door on his deceitfulness!
“Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you,” it’s written in 1 Timothy 4:16. Only that will do us any good in life. The wrong choice that Martha made wasn’t that she was serving and doing good. It was that in her work she had demands and criticism on Mary, rather than doing what Jesus taught herself! If we are living before the face of God, we have no cause to look around at what others are doing and feel that we have a right to pass judgement on them. We live in obedience to the Spirit’s promptings in our own lives, and what others do is none of our business. We don’t know how He is leading others.
Let’s rise above all the noise and pursuits of this world and seek those things which have eternal value. Like Mary, let’s find that fellowship with the Master and with those who follow Him so that we can learn of Him and become like Him. Through the Word of God, fellowship, and prayer we become rich in our spirit, and God will give us everything we need in abundance.
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” Philippians 4:8.
MARTHA, MARY, AND THE ATTITUDE OF DISCIPLESHIP CYCLE C ORDINARY TIME WEEK 16 by Bishop Robert Barron July 21st 2019
Although the little story of Martha and Mary has been interpreted throughout the centuries as a parable dealing with the “active” and “contemplative” approach to the spiritual life, it can be read as Christ’s invitation to all people to partake in his inner circle of discipleship. Christ overturned the social conventions of his time by summoning all people to discipleship. Thus, we must remove all barriers to discipleship for all people.
God wants to dwell with each of us personally, intimately—as the mysterious guests once visited Abraham’s tent, as Jesus once entered the home of Mary and Martha.
By his hospitality in this week’s First Reading, Abraham shows us how we are to welcome the Lord into our lives. His selfless service of his divine guests (see Hebrews 13:1) stands in contrast to the portrait of Martha drawn in this week’s Gospel.
Where Abraham is concerned only for the well-being of his guests, Martha speaks only of herself—“Do you not care that my sister has left me by myself? . . . Tell her to help me.” Jesus’ gentle rebuke reminds us that we risk missing the divine in the mundane, that we can fall into the trap of believing that God somehow needs to be served by human hands (see Acts 17:25).
Our Lord comes to us not to be served but to serve (see Matthew 20:28). He gave His life that we might know the one thing we need, the “better part,” which is life in the fellowship of God.
Jesus is the true Son promised today by Abraham’s visitors (see Matthew 1:1). In Him, God has made an everlasting covenant for all time, made us blessed descendants of Abraham (see Genesis
17:19, 21; Romans 4:16–17, 19–21).
The Church now offers us this covenant, bringing to completion the word of God, the promise of His plan of salvation, what Paul calls “the mystery hidden for ages.”
As once He came to Abraham, Mary, and Martha, Christ now comes to each of us in Word and Sacrament. As we sing in this week’s Psalm: He will make His dwelling with those who keep His Word
and practice justice (see also John 14:23).
If we do these things we will not be anxious or disturbed, will not have our Lord taken from us. We will wait on the Lord, who told Abraham and tells each of us: “I will surely return to you.”