Deacon Homily, Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: July 21, 2019
Deacon Tony Bellitto, St. Stanislaus Parish
MARTHA & MARY
In this Gospel passage, we can see the need for a balance between work and worship. Martha represents work, as she is busy preparing the meal, while Mary represents worship, as she sits at our Lord’s feet and listens to his teaching. So we are presented here with a contrast between:
- Activity & passivity
- Busyness & contemplation
- Doing & listening
- Service & prayer
We certainly need a balance of each one of these in our lives. It’s not that one is good and one is bad; rather, it’s a proper balancing of them that we need to strive for. But there’s also something deeper than that going on in this story.
So why does Jesus rebuke Martha? His underlying reason is not so obvious but is very relevant to each of us. Martha opens her home, but not her heart, to Jesus. He rebukes Martha not for being too active. It is not Martha’s desire to serve that is the problem, but instead it’s the fact that she is burdened, or distracted, by her serving. Her service is pulling her away from our Lord, from something more important, from someone more important. In her eagerness to serve Jesus, she loses sight of the opportunity to know Jesus. Martha is getting too self-absorbed, focusing on herself. Jesus is always more concerned about the disposition of our heart – what’s deep within that motivates us – rather than just our outward actions.
While Abraham was concerned in the First Reading only for the well-being of his guests, offering them food and rest, Martha speaks only of her own needs – she says “Do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” Well, of course Jesus cares; that’s exactly why he came to live among us.
Jesus’ gentle rebuke reminds us that we risk missing the divine in the mundane; that we can lose the opportunity for communion because we’re too focused on the common. Jesus loves us enough to confront us when our attitude is wrong.
Martha became so burdened by service that she forgot who she was serving. Martha made the mistake of allowing the activity of hospitality to become a distraction. When we become so distracted by our duties, by our busyness, it can lead to discouragement, and doubt, and disillusionment. In trying to set a table of our own making, we might miss the true banquet. The key is not our activity, but our receptivity. It’s not our ability, but our availability.
Jesus rebuked Martha, not for her service, but for her attitude – for allowing that service to irritate her, to absorb her, and to consume her so much so that it led to finger pointing at Mary. The problem is that when we go down that path of criticizing other people, it usually means we should stop examining them and start examining ourselves.
There’s a very good book written that really dives into the details about this Gospel passage. Its title is “Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World,” written by Joanna Weaver. You see we do live in a Martha world – a world of busyness and distractions that just seem to constantly increase.
The world applauds achievement, but God desires companionship. The world says “do more,” but God says, “Be still and know that I am God.”
So can you and I have a Mary heart in a Martha world? The answer is “yes.” Jesus is calling us to set priorities, to have a proper ordering about our work and our worship.
We hear the expression “Don’t put the cart before the horse.” Both the cart and the horse are important, but the positioning of one in front of the other is critical. The cart cannot move anywhere if the horse is behind, instead of in front. It is God who provides the horsepower to pull the heaviest loads.
It is devotion that should come before duty.
The spiritual should come before the practical.
Fellowship with the Lord should come before ministry to others.
So the question here is “What’s first in our life?” More to the point – “Who is first in our life?” Is it Christ, or is it ourselves, or our job, or our house, or something else?
Jesus is not just another guest – he is the son of God. Jesus deserves our full attention.
He cannot just be part of our life; he must be at the center of our life. As once he came to Abraham, Mary, and Martha, Christ now comes to each of us in Word and Sacrament. And we can be his hands, his heart, and his voice today in our interactions with others.
Life works better when we only glance at things, but gaze at God. We should not be satisfied to just look at God occasionally out of the corner of our eye. Seeing God first clearly enables us to see all other things clearly too.
Jesus says, “Martha, Martha you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing.” Notice the phrase “many things.” Jesus does not say that Martha is anxious about just preparing the meal, or just cleaning the house. He knows her heart and he can see that it’s many things that she is preoccupied with.
Isn’t Jesus speaking to all of us today too? Aren’t we all worried about many things? We’re all trying to multi-task and deal with many different concerns all at once. It’s never just one thing on our mind, is it? It’s many things that demand our attention today, and that make us overloaded and too busy to even think straight. We have many distractions, especially with all the technology that’s constantly working its way into every part of our daily lives, with electronic devices always beeping and buzzing and clamoring for our attention. Do we ever just turn it all off, or are we afraid of missing out on something if we do?
In the midst of all that noise, we need to take time to pray and to listen to God in silence, to spend time with his Word, whether it’s in your living room, or your bedroom, or your car, or sitting with his Real Presence in our Adoration chapel.
We need to carve out a quiet space each day to sit at the Lord’s feet, in contemplation, listening to his teaching. It’s not more stuff we need to master; instead, it’s the Master himself that we need more of. We are being challenged to trade the “many things” that make us anxious for the “one thing” that calms our hearts.
Martha had become so distracted by serving that it led her to have anxiety and worry, and Jesus called her out on that. Anxiety and worry can short-circuit our relationship with God and with others. Our eyes can become fixed on our situation, rather than on our Savior. Worry prevents us from living the full life that God intends for us, with a peace that is beyond our human understanding.
A life filled with fear and anxiety has little room left for faith. Worry magnifies the problems; but prayer magnifies God. Anxiety does not help us solve life’s problems; it creates new problems. But let not our hearts be troubled. Instead, trust in God and you will find peace for your soul.
Anything that distracts us away from God is like too much candy in the afternoon that takes away our appetite for dinner. But a quick sugar fix can never really satisfy our hunger.
Our spirit hungers and thirsts for real food and real drink – real substance that only God can offer. Distractions take away our appetite, our desire, for intimacy with God. We fool ourselves into thinking we’re satisfied because of our busyness, so we don’t need God. But it’s an illusion – busyness is not what our soul is hungering for and thirsting for. It is spiritual food that we really need more and more of, that can only come from cultivating a relationship with God. We need to spend time with the God who loves us, just like we need real face-time in our human relationships.
We need to say “no” to the junk food that the world offers through busyness and distractions. Then we can taste and see the goodness of the Lord. Then even our work and our service which follows can itself become like a prayer.
Jesus loved Martha too much to give her what she wanted; instead he gave her what she needed – an invitation to draw closer to him. With open arms, he invited her to leave behind her worries and troubles and find refuge in him. And today he is also inviting you and me.
We too can feel Christ’s strong arms around us. Arms that built the universe. Arms that hold the world together. Arms so gentle that they cradled children. Arms so strong they shouldered every burden we would ever bear. They are the everlasting arms of our Lord – catching us, embracing us, and receiving us as his own. May God bless you all.