Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 21, 2019 – Year C
Readings: Gn 18:1-10A / Ps 15 / Col 1:24-28 / Lk 10:38-42
by Father Louis Benoit, Guest Celebrant
In the Bible, hospitality was a very important thing. That’s the first reading, with Abraham and his visitors. And in the gospel, Martha welcomes Jesus into her home. Hospitality: a very important thing.
However, Martha gets so involved in making this meal for Jesus. Mary, her sister, is just sitting at Jesus’ feet, doing nothing about the serving. Martha gets rather ticked off, so she comes to Jesus, “Tell my sister to help me.” Notice Jesus: “You are anxious and worried about many things. Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her.”
Martha welcomes Jesus into her home, and then she gets so busy and so involved with what she’s supposed to be doing, that she doesn’t pay any attention to Jesus. Jesus says in effect, “Why don’t you just make a simpler meal, so we can spend time together?” Of course that’s Martha’s thing: She gets so involved with her own agenda. She knows Jesus, but she doesn’t really encounter Jesus. He’s right before her, and she’s not paying attention to Him.
This is a fabulous story for our country today, where people are so busy running around with so many things. Do they take time to see Jesus all around them? You may believe Jesus in your head; that’s one thing. But do you encounter Jesus in your life? You encounter Jesus daily, and Jesus is in every person you meet. There’s some of the presence of Jesus there. But if we’re so over-busy with our own stuff, we won’t see it! And we won’t touch that presence of Jesus that is there right in front of us in various kinds of people.
It’s not just enough to believe with our head; we have to believe with our heart, and we have to experience the presence of Jesus in life. God will never force God’s presence on us. We have to be open to it. There’s a saying that hits the nail on the head: “God is a gentleman. He will not interrupt.”
If we get all busy with our own agendas and our own things, God’s not going to break in. He’s a gentleman. He won’t interrupt. We have to be open to the presence of Jesus that is all around us in every person that we meet, and also God’s presence in God’s creation. That means a change in attitude, a change in a way of life. That we take time to smell the roses along the way. That’s important. Take time to see Jesus in people.
There are a few other aspects of this. One of the aspects of not seeing Jesus in other people is when there are certain groups of people, certain races, certain nationalities, that we just don’t like, and therefore we don’t encounter Jesus in these people, groups, nationalities, races. Then we’re the losers.
There’s those two great sides: We and They. We know what They are like, don’t we? But you’re shutting out God’s presence. Especially if the people are different than you are, then they’ve got a different way of showing God’s presence to you. It’s more important than ever that you be aware of these people and God’s presence within these people. They’re different. That difference is something you don’t have, and you need to see that in other people. So don’t get so involved in your own agendas that you can isolate various groups, individuals, nationalities, races.
Another biggie demanding your time is the poor and those who come to you demanding chunks of your time. It can be very inconvenient. They can come at the worst times. They can be demanding what you don’t want to give. And yet that’s God’s presence to you. They can be disrupting your schedules of what you wanted to do because of what they want. And yet, that can be God’s presence for you, and sometimes your agenda is not God’s agenda, and you need to get them together: your agenda and God’s agenda.
I remember hearing a spiritual talk one time, and a woman was testifying about her own life. She said, “You know, I couldn’t get my work done because of the interruptions. And then I realized, the interruptions were my work!” The interruptions were what God wanted her to be doing. A lot of wisdom there.
So we have all these things that keep us from seeing God’s presence, experiencing Jesus’ presence, and we can be very much like Martha, getting so involved in our own ways, our own thinking, that we miss it!
Nobody totally eliminates God’s presence from them, and yet nobody perfectly sees God’s presence everywhere. We’re somewhere in between. It’s like we’re not black or white; we’re grey. And because we’re grey, we can always improve. We can always get better at seeing Jesus’ presence in people around us, in various ways. Yes, you are doing it to some extent, but you could be doing it better. Life is a process of getting deeper and deeper, and better and better.
There’s also the failure to see God’s presence in all creation. And that takes time, again, to stop and smell the roses, to appreciate creation and everything God has given you. And also not to be destroying creation. Would you destroy a beautiful gift in front of the person who gave it to you? That’s what we’re doing when we destroy God’s creation in God’s presence. There’s a real responsibility.
Martha and Mary can symbolize personality types. Some people are Marys who can sit there and be contemplative and think and be in God’s presence. Other people are Marthas that have to be busy all the time.
Accept yourself where you’re at. You may be a Martha. You may be a Mary. We had a prayer group at one time that included Ruthie, a thoroughgoing Martha. We said, “Ruthie, you couldn’t sit at the Lord’s feet for five minutes without saying, ‘Can I get you something to eat?’” That was her. So accept yourself where you’re at.
This gospel seems to emphasize Mary’s sitting there passively, listening to Jesus. A lot of times you have to put scriptural readings in their context. What went before and after the scripture reading? The reading before this was the gospel of last Sunday, the Good Samaritan, which is a call to be active and involved, and it kind of balances off this gospel of Martha and Mary. With the Good Samaritan we are called to be active, to reach out, to really be taking care of our brother’s need. This gospel is saying that there are times that we need to be seeing Jesus in life all around us and taking the time to do that.