Sunday Homily – 16th Sunday C

Genesis 18:1-10a
Colossians 1:24-28
Luke 10:38-42

‘Martha, Martha,’ Jesus says, ‘you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one’ (Luke 10:11)

The most important thing in life is surely our relationships. It seems that women are more likely to accept that truth than men. Certainly, relationships, and more specifically friendships, counted a great deal with Jesus. In today’s charming story from the pen of Luke, we hear that on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus drops in on his ever-loving friends, the two sisters Martha and Mary.

In the desert storms of his life right now, their home, their warmth, and hospitality are a kind of oasis. Think of where Jesus is heading when this incident occurs. He’s on his way to Jerusalem, and most likely, on his way to be murdered there. Presumably, his whole personality is convulsed with the battle going on inside him to accept that this is very likely to happen, and to accept that somehow it serves God’s plan for the better world which is the kingdom of God. With the prospect of the cross before him and the terrible tension and struggle to accept it, what he wants most of all right now is an oasis of rest and relaxation, and calm, quiet conversation.

Martha is a good, kind, and generous woman. But here is one of the problems of life. So often we want to be kind to people in our way, by giving them what we assume they want. But when we discover that they have other ideas and put us off, we may take offence, and complain that our love and generosity are not appreciated. This is to forget that being truly kind to another is to become aware of what she or he truly needs, or needs more than anything else.

This is where Martha makes a mistake. She sets out to be kind to Jesus, but it has to be her way of being kind. She fails to see into the heart of Jesus to discover that what he wants and needs right now is not a lot of hustle and bustle, not the clanging of pots and pans, not the hissing of a kettle or the crackling of a fire, not heaps and heaps of food, and certainly not a lot of fussing and fretting and fuming. What he wants more than anything else right now is to kick off his sandals, sit down and relax, and talk and talk to friends who will take the time to listen. Mary, with a more sensitive antenna than her sister in the kitchen, picks this up, sits at his feet, and listens carefully. So, when Martha gets mad and interrupts the flow of conversation, she cops a bit of a mouthful from Jesus, including his special words of praise for her sister’s choice.

Alice Camille has brought the Martha and Mary story up-to-date. She speaks from her own experience when she writes: –

I have often been a guest in Martha’s home. I visit … someone whom I have longed to see, and am treated with great kindness and attention to my every need. The best china and the nicest desserts come out, and I never see the bottom of my coffee cup, for it is vigilantly refilled. Yet all the while, enjoying every good thing that comes to me, I am longing for my friend to sit down. After all, I have come to be with her, not her dishes.

I have also been to Mary’s house. The moment I come in, she grabs me by the arm and we sit down. We talk, laugh, the hours go by and maybe I am hungry, or I have to cough before a glass of water is offered. The room gets cold and no one closes a window or stirs up the fire. I may be uncomfortable at Mary’s house, but we have a darn good visit.

Alice Camille goes on to comment: –

It is best, of course, not to have to choose. Martha’s hospitality was welcome and good. Mary might have been more considerate of her sister, sharing the chores and the chance to be with Jesus. But if the choice has to be made, presence is always the better part. The relationship will keep without the cookies, but not without heart speaking to heart. 

There’s a message in such real-life stories for us, whether we are women or men. Sustaining relationships in general and friendships, in particular, requires sensitivity to what the other wants, and what the other needs, more than anything else. With our fellow human beings, there’s a time for action, and a time for reflection. There’s a time for doing and a time for being. There’s a time for talking and a time for listening. There’s a time for noise, and a time for silence. There’s a time for helping, but not for imposing.

With our God, there is a time for doing. Like the Good Samaritan did in our gospel story last Sunday! And there’s a time too for listening to God’s word – thinking, reflecting, and praying about it – just as we are doing this Sunday and every Sunday at our Eucharist.  A time, therefore, to be just like Mary in Luke’s beautiful story of the two sisters with their best friend, Jesus!

So, during our personal and shared prayer today we might ask ourselves a few questions: –

Are we more like Martha or Mary in our relationships and friendships with others? Are we good at giving, but poor at receiving? Where do we put most of our energies? What do we overlook or neglect? Do we make time to listen and reflect? How do we share our presence with those who are important to us? Where do we welcome Jesus as our guest into our lives? Do we listen to him and let him guide us? Or are we simply too busy or distracted to hear what he wants to say to us? 

To the extent that we need to do better in any of these areas, we might also pray with great conviction that powerful prayer we say each time we welcome Jesus as our best friend, in Holy Communion: ‘Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.’

Brian Gleeson is a Passionist priest, and a member of the Passionist community in Endeavour Hills, Melbourne.