Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
16th Sunday of OT, Year C
July 22, 2001
Gn 18:1-10; Col 1:24-28; Lk 10:38-42
1) Today’s Gospel scene is startling, in how Jesus sides with Mary against her sister Martha. Do you agree with Jesus? I’d think that most people actually don’t. At the simplest level, if you and someone else were throwing a dinner party for a guest and you were the one doing all the work while the other just spent time in the guest’s presence, would you not feel a little angry and resentful, that the other is taking advantage of you?
2) Many of us think that God prefers us to be frenetic and run around doing a million different things. That the best way to serve him and to love him is to do a million things for him. He doesn’t. Martha thought her generous cooking of a meal for Jesus, doing something for him, was the best way to serve him. She was wrong. Christ says that Mary has chosen the one thing necessary, and it will not be taken away from her. Jesus is that one thing necessary and Mary was sitting at his feet lovingly listening to him.
3) What Jesus is not saying to Martha is castigating her work. He’s certainly not against doing things to help others. This episode comes right after the parable of the Good Samaritan, which requires helping out others out of love. But we have to get the priorities straight. Jesus must come first. A head of a Catholic organization said once lately in my presence that the most important mark of a Catholic institution is its dedication to service. I spoke with him afterward and I said that that wasn’t strictly speaking true. The most important mark of a Catholic institution is its fidelity to Christ. Service necessarily must flow from true devotion to Christ, but Christ comes first. Everything else second.
4) Priests see this type of flawed Christian reasoning all the time in terms of the excuses people give for not coming to Mass. I’m too busy, Father. I’ve got to work to support my family. Sunday is the only day I have to get all my stuff done. From kids, I need to play sports on Sunday so that I can win a scholarship to go to college. Sunday is the only day I have a chance to sleep. It goes on. Is what they’re doing wrong? Is working to support a family wrong? Is playing sports wrong? No. But it’s misplaced priorities and misplaced trust in Jesus.
5) We all fall guilty of this at times, some of us more than others. And hence this Gospel provides a real examination of conscience for us today. If I were to ask you, “What is necessary in your life?” would you respond, “only one thing, God?” Or would you respond with a whole list of things? Would our actions show that only one thing is necessary, God? If so, how much time do we make for him, to listen to him, to receive him? Do we put Christ first in our lives? Because if Christ is not first, he’s almost never second.
6) Some might object that these are almost impossible words in today’s world. There are too many necessary things. I’ve got responsibilities to which I’ve got to take care. If I were to put Christ first in everything, there would be sacrifices, tough sacrifices, which might bring hardships on me and my family. We’ve got all these bills, all these concerns, for good things. To all of them, Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount:
Mt 6:25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you — you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat? or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
7) If Jesus is saying this about all those types of things that we really do need — food, clothing, shelter — than clearly he is saying them about all those things we don’t need, but want: televisions, computers, cars, homes, money, fame, etc. Jesus promised each of us, “Seek first the kingdom of God and all these other things will be given to you besides.” He promised us that if we put him first above everything, he will give us 100-fold in this life and eternal life. If we really trust him to keep his word, we’d be idiotic not to keep our own end. This is what Jesus was saying to Martha. Seek first the kingdom of God. God is the one thing necessary.
8 ) This Gospel really is extraordinarily liberating. When we put God first, we begin to see that our life takes on a completely different reality. It’s not like all our problems disappear, but we begin to look at all of these difficulties with the eyes of Christ. We begin to see that what might appear to be a situation that looks like the end of the world, really isn’t the end of the world at all. That what seems to be a catastrophe, might in fact be an opportunity to grow much more deeply in relationship with the Lord. It is only when we put the Lord first that we experience the peace that our hearts long for, the peace that only God can give and no one can take away.
9) This Mass is where we come, like Martha and Mary, to encounter Jesus as the one thing necessary. We have the privilege to listen to Him, listen to God, speaking directly to us in the Scriptures. We get a chance to receive God inside of us. Can anything — anything in the whole world — be more important than that, or more necessary? And so that we can leave everything else behind, Jesus, instead of allowing us to prepare something for him, prepares a meal for us, in which he feeds us with himself, the food of everlasting life. See — he’s already keeping his promise, giving us all other things besides.