Pastor Column, Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: July 21, 2019
Msgr. Joseph Tracy, St. Stanislaus Parish
How good are we at listening to God’s Word? In last Sunday’s Gospel Jesus and His disciples meet an enthusiastic but somewhat confused lawyer who tested Jesus by asking “and who is my neighbor?” Jesus responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan. One wonders, however, exactly how fervently they were listening to what He has been saying. And how about us? Today the Gospel tells the story of someone who shows respect for Jesus and sets an example for us of listening to His word.
Many of the famous stories associated with the public ministry of Jesus are found only in the pages of Luke’s gospel. The tale of Martha and Mary are of that ilk, appearing only in Luke with some of His signature touches. Typical of Luke, for example, women followers of Jesus are featured prominently. They minister and listen to Him. Also, the story is framed in the middle of action (ministering) and prayer (listening). Like the Good Samaritan parable, the gospel ideal of Christian love and service to others is enunciated in the exchange of the Lord with Mary and Martha. There is a steady accumulation of such messages in the Gospel, oftentimes so skillfully woven that they are unnoticed. Are we listening? Do prayer and discernment have a role in following through on our baptismal call to serve others in need? Does prayer help us recognize the needy, so that we do not change the side of the street on which we might walk to avoid serving? These gospels stories and teaching are very much related, though often unrecognizably so.
Martha makes her first and only appearance in Luke’s Gospel in this selection. Her sister, Mary, is also with her in this story, sitting at the feet of Jesus to hear Him speak. To sit at another’s feet was an acknowledgment of the other person’s authority. For Mary, Jesus is a prophet speaking an authoritative word. Martha has often been portrayed as the kill-joy in this story. She is the one fretting about all the work; she the sister who is bossy, anxious and worried. Jesus responds to her concerns that there is only one need. For some that has been interpreted as simplifying – serving less dishes (one or two), putting away the cookbooks, going with the basics. Others have suggested that Jesus meant that another thing was important: paying attention to the guest, not just being hospitable but listening to His words. Mary has done the “one thing necessary:” listening to the One who speaks God’s word.
This opens up for me a consideration of how well I listen to the “guests” occasionally coming upon me? Often they bring a different perspective I do not ordinarily see, and a first response might be to put up barriers. It is truly an act of faith and trust in the Spirit to pay attention to what you and I hear and see and then reflect on its application to our lives. Careful though! It might move barriers of a different type than some politicians want to construct.