Sunday Gospel Reflection for 16th Sunday of the Year, Sunday July 17th By Brian Maher OMI
No matter how often I read this Gospel, no matter how often I bring it to prayer, no matter how many commentaries I read about it, I still come away feeling inherently uncomfortable when I finish. I think it is some kind of gut reaction based on an upbringing where service, hard work and helping others was valued above all else.
I know my dear mother, a woman of deep, traditional faith, who I have absolutely no doubt is with God, said of this Gospel that she “wasn’t at all surprised by Jesus’ reaction to Martha’s request. He was just being a typical man, who enjoyed a good meal, in good company without giving the slightest thought to how the food got to the table!”
Who knows, maybe in a non-theological way, she was more right than wrong. Judaism, at the time of Jesus was very much a patriarchal culture and religion, and Jesus was, no doubt, shaped by this culture. There is a wisdom, sometimes, in not seeking for deep, hidden meanings in every tiny action and word of Jesus. Isn’t it possible, likely in fact, that Jesus stumbled on a very ordinary, not unusual, spat between two sisters who loved one another. Mary wanted to simply be with Jesus while Martha would love to do the same, but ‘someone has to get the meal ready!’. Irritated, she demands that Jesus tell Mary to help her. Who knows what Jesus felt at that moment. Maybe he was taken by surprise, or perhaps he was a bit annoyed that Martha was trying to force him to take sides. Whatever the reason, we can be pretty sure that Martha was not overjoyed by his answer.
Language experts tell us that what we read as the word ‘better’ (Mary has chosen the better part…) is a mistranslation of the Greek word used by Luke. They suggest that saying, “Mary has chosen a good part…” is closer to what was intended. In other words, what we read as a comparison between Martha and Mary, with Mary being ‘better’ than Martha is not what Jesus said.
He is saying that Mary is doing a ‘good thing’ by sitting with him, and that will not be taken from her. BUT, and this is important, Martha is also doing a ‘good thing’ by her service and unselfishly making the meal for them all. The story has two ‘goods’, not an either/or.
Each of us must interpret what we read in the light of the entire message and person of Jesus. For me, I cannot imagine Jesus insulting the work of Martha by saying that what Mary is doing is somehow ‘better’ than what she is doing. I can, however, imagine Jesus refusing to become involved in simplistic and dualistic arguments, as Martha wants him to do, and saying to her, “Please Martha, stop this silly fighting. You are both doing good things and I appreciate both equally. I won’t ask Mary to leave my side, because what she is doing is good, but you, too, are doing good – just different at the moment.”
I must admit, I still have that gut level unease at this, but that is my problem to resolve!
If we look at this Gospel from the point of view of two opposite poles – in the kitchen, or sitting at Jesus feet, – then we too will find ourselves, like Jesus was, caught in a position of taking sides.
Isn’t it so much better to view both Martha and Mary as good, not one ‘better’ than another. In this way we can walk between kitchen and sitting-room as we wish, sometimes in the kitchen, sometimes sitting with Jesus, listening to him, more often than not, somewhere between the two.
I know that my life has been spent mostly in the kitchen, working for God’s Kingdom and enjoying every moment of it. Of course there were times when I got tired and frustrated and wished I could be like ‘him’ or ‘her’, who seemed to do so much less and still get praised for it! But they were just moments. I enjoyed myself in the kitchen of the Lord, a lot of time only hearing Jesus in the background, aware of him always there, but not always focused on him.
I do not regret any of my time in the kitchen, and I am certain that Jesus would not point to someone else’s life choice and say it was ‘better’ than mine. That simply is not the Jesus I have come to know.
In more recent years, due to a combination of age, illness and, I suppose, a wisdom that comes with passing time, I have come to spend more time at the feet of Jesus, free to listen to him and ponder his word. Partially forced on me and at times annoyed that God had taken me from my beloved kitchen, I grew, slowly, to a point where I was happy to sit and listen to Jesus, and now, to a point where I have come to enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the smells, tastes and noises of the kitchen.
I still move a bit from the feet of Jesus to the kitchen and I am content to do so. Is not simply writing this reflection every week returning to the kitchen for a while? It is, and it is good.
When I take time to pray, do a retreat, be still, relax, rest, am I not sitting at the feet of Jesus, giving him my full attention and focus? I am, and it is good.
That is the wonder of this Gospel, as it is the wonder of life. What I think I see as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ may well be two ‘goods’, only different, because of circumstances, age, health, or even mood.
Jesus warns Martha: Do not judge your sister. She is doing good by sitting with me and you must not judge or criticise her for it.
Jesus warns us too: Do not judge those who are different to you. If they are sincere and authentic, then they are doing good and you must not judge or criticise them.
Ponder this: Suppose Mary had said to Jesus, “We see you so seldom now. The food can wait. Tell Martha to stop making all that infernal noise in the kitchen and do you the honour of coming and listening to you”, what would Jesus have said?
Maybe: “Mary, Mary, you become distracted by noise and things you don’t understand. We need to eat, and Martha is doing a good thing by thinking about that. That shall not be taken from her.”
Not good and bad, but two equal goods when viewed in a non-judgemental, tolerant and open way. Very often, It is we who make things good and bad, not God! Very often, It is we who tie ourselves to narrow laws and rules, not God! Very often, It is we who judge and punish and condemn and criticise, not God!
God said: “My ways are not your ways and my thoughts are not your thoughts. For as high as Heaven is above Earth, so are my ways not your ways and my thoughts not your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
Let us not forget it.
Surely, today, Jesus is saying to us: “Oh, ……… (say your own name), you worry and fret about so much. You fight and war over such silly, pointless things. You divide people into ‘good’ and ‘bad’, when there is only good, seen from two angles. Look at the beauty and wonder of all I created, look at my own image radiating in every human person. Whoever they are, they are my people, good people, just like you are. Be open and wise and tolerant, and you will see the good in all people. It is there, it must not be taken from them.”
I suppose the most important question I ask myself: Would my dear mother be impressed or convinced by this reflection? Absolutely not!
“Typical man!” she would say, and that would end the argument!
If you have any comments, questions or thoughts on this scripture reflection, please feel welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
|Gospel||Luke 10:38-42 ©|
Martha works; Mary listens
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