16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Fr. Francis)
The story is told of the father who after work would take a long walk with his teen-age daughter. He took great pleasure in her company. Suddenly she began to offer almost daily excuses as to why she could not accompany him. He was hurt but held his tongue. Finally his birthday arrived. His daughter presented him with a sweater that she had knitted. Then he realized that she had done her knitting when he was out of the house for his walk. He said to her, “Martha, Martha, I do appreciate this sweater. But I value your company infinitely more. A sweater I can buy in any store. But you I cannot buy. Please never abandon me again.”
The gospel of this Sunday brings us the episode of Martha and Mary, the two sisters of Lazarus. Mary listen to the word of Jesus while sitting at his feet. Martha, meanwhile, was in the kitchen preparing a meal. This family known as friends of Jesus as mentioned with frequency both in the gospel of St Luke and in the Gospel of John. Whenever Jesus travelled to Jerusalem he almost always visited these friends in Bethany. House of Bethany means poverty, synonymous to Christians as a place for friendship given to missionaries seeking a place to rest and refreshment.
Just as visited his friends in Bethany, it is still surprising how Jesus visited many people in their own home: St Peter, Mathew, Jabirus, Simon the Pharisee and Simon the Leper, Zacchaeus and many others. People also sought out Jesus in his own home. Jesus taught his disciples to enter the homes of people they visited by blessing their home with the blessing of peace.
St Luke presents us the two attitudes of the sisters. They are important distinct dimensions in the life of every Christian: to be attentive to the word of God and to be attentive to people’s need, above all the care for the neediest. Each of this attitudes demand and both are irrevocable. The importance of both dimensions can lead to tension and even to the point denying one or another or even to suppose that one is more important than the other.
While the story of Martha and Mary can certainly be applied to those called to the Contemplative Life we shouldn’t thing that it is restricted to just that. Actually, according to me, it is a teaching that applies just as much to the rest of us. What Jesus is telling us is that we have to make space in our lives for prayer and contemplation. He is telling us that being busy about the things of this world isn’t enough. There needs to be space in our lives for God too. There needs to be time for prayer and the spiritual side of things.
We are not merely physical beings who are preoccupied with the world and all that needs to be done. We are actually spiritual beings living in a physical world and indeed when our life here on earth comes to an end we will be called by God to live with him in an entirely spiritual way for ever in heaven. With this in mind we would be foolish to ignore the spiritual aspect of our lives; indeed, the spiritual side of our nature is something that we ought to deepen whenever possible.
Developing our spiritual nature is something that each of us ought to commit ourselves to. Actually, I think that a lot of us haven’t moved on very much since we acquired the faith in our childhood. We are probably praying in exactly the same way as we did when we were at school. We are probably thinking of God in the same way as we did when we were children.
As Christians we are called to live out both dimensions in a balanced manner with equal care for each. We will not be true disciples of the Lord if we do not make an effort to both contemplate the Word and care to work for a better world.
I am a good friend of Jesus?
I am able to invite Jesus into my home?
I am able to give importance to both listening to God’s words and hospitable to the needy?
Fr. A. Francis HGN