Dear Sisters and Brothers,
The first reading and the Gospel are hospitality stories. Hospitality was an esteemed virtue in the ancient world. It is still a highly regarded and very necessary virtue. In the first reading we see how, when three strangers (Yahweh and two heavenly companions) suddenly appeared to Abraham, he reacted with instinctive hospitability, and how Yahweh rewarded his hospitality.
This famous story of Mary and Martha, where Martha who is consumed with the necessary household chores while her sister Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, has sometimes been interpreted as the tension between the active and the contemplative life. Mary, who is praised by Jesus for choosing “the better part,” is seen to represent the contemplative, monastic-type life, while Martha, who is “anxious and worried about many things,” represents the less glorious active life.
But this may not be the most efficacious reading of this challenging scene. Throughout the gospels Jesus himself is very active—healing the sick, feeding the crowds, teaching the multitudes. Mark’s Gospel ever present Jesus so busy that he does not have time to eat (see Mark 3:20)! It seems hardly possible that Jesus would downgrade a life of service.
Others see a deeper meaning in this text. Mary exhibits authentic discipleship by listening intently to the words of Jesus—the very heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. People in Jesus’ day (and perhaps still?) expected women to be confined to domestic chores alone—the role that Martha feels she must be involved in. Yet Jesus does not agree that Mary has to be defined simply in that way; she, too, can be a disciple just as the other followers of Jesus were—listening to him, taking his words to heart, and following him.
Contemplating Jesus in the way Mary does will ultimately lead to a life of service. True love instilled in the follower of Jesus must ultimately be expressed in acts of love for those in need. But the need to listen intently, to ponder the meaning of the gospel, to draw near to Jesus, this is essential for an authentic Christian life and is a source of meaning in our lives that otherwise might become barren. The dimensions exhibited by these two friends of Jesus are not polar opposites but are in fact complementary. Both are needed; active service and deep contemplation; but, as Jesus admonishes Martha, the necessary foundation of an active Christian life is a loving relationship with Christ.
The story has a lot to tell us about our busy lives today. We are to do good, but one of the good things we are to do is to slow down and hear the word of life; which we are doing at this time. So, thank you for being here today.
Peace and Everything good!
Fr. Valery Burusu