Sixteenth Sunday, C
Mary v Martha: One makes time for the Lord
The reading from the Book of Genesis is a wonderful reading, having similarities with the Annunciation because of the angels that announce the birth of Isaac. Later, because of those three angels, this story becomes the basis of the great icon of Rublev that is symbolic of the Holy Trinity. However, today the Genesis story is meant to be contrasted with the Gospel because of the hospitality shown by Abraham and Sarah.
In today’s Gospel, when Jesus comes to Bethany, Martha demonstrates hospitality by welcoming Jesus into the home she shares with her sister Mary. She then busies herself with the tasks of serving their guest. Martha is said to be ‘distracted, worrying and fretting about so many things’ whilst Mary just plonks herself down at the Lord’s feet.
I think there are two levels to this story. On the surface level isn’t Jesus so right? Mary had chosen the better part. It’s true to say that we also tend to get caught up in so many things whilst avoiding what is truly important. Who has gone out to dinner lately with family? Sharing family life, deepening and enriching human bonds, communication – all go out the window as everyone avoids each, not because they are distracted by their phone, but because they prefer it!
But Martha’s criticism is more substantial. "Lord, don't you care that I'm doing all the serving by myself?" She is doing what needs to be done. Her part is necessary. Even so, can’t we put aside the things we consider so important at those times when there is an even more important task at hand? There is a time for serving but what is more vital is that we sit and rest in the presence of our God, to hear his words of grace and truth, to know that we are loved and valued as children of God, to be renewed in faith and yes, strengthened for service. Martha’s approach was unbalanced.
This leads to the second level in this story, the distinction between contemplative and active lives in the service of God. We must achieve a balance but also understand the importance of prayer over other, more active duties – particularly contemplative prayer. And this is not just for religious, but everyone.
So what is contemplative prayer? St. Teresa answers: "Contemplative prayer ...is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us." Contemplative prayer seeks him "whom my soul loves." ...[T]o desire him is always the beginning of love, and we seek him in that pure faith which causes us to be born of him and to live in him (Catechism 2709).
Isn’t that beautiful? Don’t you deserve to have that time alone with the Lord? If you say you haven’t the time maybe you are avoiding what is truly important. I’ll finish on one last quote:
The choice of the time and duration of the prayer arises from a determined will, revealing the secrets of the heart. One does not undertake contemplative prayer only when one has the time: one makes time for the Lord (Catechism 2710).