A Reflection on the Readings for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I: Genesis 18:1-10a
Responsorial Psalm 15:2-3, 3-4, 5
Reading II: Colossians 1:24-28
Gospel: Luke 10:38-42
One of the realities that I have noticed in life today, pretty much across the globe, is speed. I have spent 25 years employed in Houston while I live in Montgomery; every day, I feel sucked into speed. I get into my truck every morning and rush to work. Every evening I get back into my truck and drive back home. – I find myself either frustrated at the slow driver in the fast lane in front of me or being pushed from behind by a driver who is in a bigger hurry than I am.
While at work, I read emails from people who want replies today! Customers who want their items today even though they ordered them yesterday with the knowledge that it will take three weeks to manufacture them. I am greeted by employees that need some help, usually immediately, and others who let me know of meetings and other programs that require my presence at the last minute.
All the while I try to multitask, juggling all the items that need my attention, both at work and in my ministry as a deacon—rushing from one activity or problem to the next. I have come to realize that very smart people invented amazing machines to save time, and now what we always hear is there is no time! Simply because we just pack more into the available time.
This kind of lifestyle can become overwhelming if we let it because, in reality, we have all the time there is. It simply boils down to how we decide to use it. Every time I evaluate my work and my ministry, I write down a repeated phrase: Slow Down! My mind will continue to try and convince me that I cannot slow down, and if I do stop for a few minutes, the perception is I appear lazy and inefficient. But I have to slow down; I have to go into relax mode; I have to sit and reflect. I need to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen, for he has much to teach us.
Today’s readings challenge us to be more perceptive, recognize the Lord’s presence, and be hospitable by allowing Him into our space, our homes. We need to slow down, relax and sit in the company of Jesus and listen! Our liturgy of the Word this Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time points us to this directive.
It starts in the Book of Genesis with the story of a divine encounter between Abraham and the strangers at the Oak of Mamre, and though there were three of them, Abraham addressed them as “Sir“, a singular greeting. Christians would later see these three visitors as a foreshadowing of the Trinity.
It seems that Abraham was keenly aware of the divine presence before him. His response showed the depth of his faith: “Sir, I beg you, if I find favor with you, kindly do not pass your servant by“… We can hear the echo of his words of humble faith and trust in the centurion’s response to Jesus, which we, ourselves repeat before Communion. “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
We see that Abraham is perceptive of the Lord’s presence, and his hospitality is beyond measure, washing their feet, preparing fresh bread, a choice steer, curds, and milk—not a small undertaking.
But while it seems that God rewards Abraham for his hospitality to his three guests, if we look at the Gospel, we find that Jesus rebukes Martha for being busy with the same hospitality tasks. We might want to ask, “Where is the justice? Wasn’t Martha being hospitable like Abraham?” We only need to look at Jesus’ response to her when she confronted him: “Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.“
Martha and Mary both loved and served the Lord, but they expressed it differently. St. Augustine stated (in his Sermon 103): … “Martha, who was arranging and preparing the Lord’s meal, was busy doing many things, whereas Mary preferred to find her meal in what the Lord was saying. In a way, Mary deserted her sister, who was very busy, and sat herself down at Jesus’ feet and just listened to his words. Martha was getting annoyed; Mary was feasting; Martha was coping with many things, Mary was concentrating on one. Both occupations were good.”
The portrayals of Martha and Mary in today’s Gospel represent two dimensions of our spiritual life. Martha represents the active apostolic life because she was hard-working, and we could even say selfless in what she was doing in trying to honor and please Jesus. But there is a danger! Even good works can leave the soul empty if we neglect our prayer and interior life.
Christ sees the effect of this neglect in Martha. When Jesus looked at Martha that day, He saw deep down inside her the dangerous attitudes of resentment, narrowness and unkindness. All are brought about by anxiety and worry, which can fill the vacuum left by not slowing down, reflecting, and focusing on earnest prayer.
Let’s always remember why we are doing what we are doing. The Lord will be pleased if, amid all the activity, we don’t forget to slow down and nourish our souls with prayer and reflection.
Martha also reminds us that when we get to the point of frustration when we are feeling abandoned, left to carry the burdens of life on our own, realizing that prayer and reflection are lacking, we, just like Martha, should run to Jesus and say, Lord, I need help.
Mary, on the other hand, represents the contemplative life as she sits attentively listening and learning from Christ; she is searching for deeper meaning in his teaching. She is reminding us that we need to take our foot off life’s accelerator and slow down, and we need to sit down at the feet of Jesus and search for that deeper meaning of His teaching.
Without being attentive to prayer, being a disciple, or a learner of our faith, we soon run the risk of having placed items and interests far from the heart of Christ into our minds and hearts. Christ whom we should desire to emulate.
Our love must also become incarnate, like the love of Jesus, in whatever we do to meet the needs of others. Martha and Mary: work and contemplation, prayer and service, listening and doing. They go together, and the good disciple both prays and serves.
Above all, we should strive to have a healthy balance between contemplation and action. We both need Martha, the active one, and Mary, the contemplative one, in our lives as Christians. One cannot do without the other.
But again, it must be well balanced. Speed, mentioned in the introduction, the constant noise we live in, in our cities, and the busy nature of our life also influence our prayer and our contemplation.
We want to talk too much in prayer – We tend to rush with our prayers – always in a hurry to catch up with something else. Today’s gospel story invites us to just sit there in prayer, listening to him speaking. This is contemplation. We need to resist the temptation to be doing something even in prayer – however prayerful that is. We only have to sit and listen.
Contemplative Prayer is a form of Christian prayer in which we give our full attention to relating to God in a passive, non-defensive, non-demanding way. It is in patience waiting on God to deepen our confidence in His power and love. This attitude in prayer builds increased confidence in God, which also frees us to love others more unconditionally – compassionately. This is what Jesus is inviting Martha to; he is inviting us also.
As I reflect on my struggles of loving others unconditionally, I am reminded of the director of religious education at a Catholic school who showed off the second grade First Communion class to the pastor. She thought she had thoroughly prepared the children so that each child would show their formation well.
“Johnny,” she said to one of the boys, “is there anything God cannot do”?
“Yes, sister,” he replied.
Hmmm, “Think again, Johnny.” And she asked him again, “is there anything God cannot do”?
“Yes, sister, there is something that God cannot do.”
In exasperation, the sister said, “O.K. Johnny, what is it that God cannot do”?
Triumphantly, Johnny answered, “God cannot please everybody.”
Truer words were never spoken! We will not always be able to please everyone either, but we can love them more unconditionally and compassionately, which will please God. We simply need to build an attitude and commitment of sitting at the feet of Jesus and taking the time to listen to him.
We must try to spend moments during the day in silent contemplation, being perceptive of the presence of God in our daily routines. We need to be listening with our hearts and minds.
We must remember to always be welcoming and hospitable to the stranger who comes before us, for like Abraham, we do not know when we will entertain the Lord.
In our daily work, our efforts should honor Jesus. And when contentious situations come about, let us stop before frustration overtakes our emotions and remember to run to Jesus, He may not tell us what we want to hear. Still, if we listen closely to his teaching, we will have chosen the “better part.”
Deacon Jeff Borski