Gen. 18, 1-10; Colossians. 1, 24-28; Lk 10, 38-42.
Today’s gospel text may sound contradictory when compared to what we expect from the Gospel. We all know how much Jesus highlights the commitment to serve others and to be always available to give a helping hand wherever need arises. Yet in today’s text, Jesus is commending not the one who was serving and being hospitable, but the one who instead chose to stop and listen. He commends Mary, who chose to leave all the housework to Martha her sister, and affirms that hers was the best choice.
This is not a question of choosing one thing over another. It’s a choice of priorities, which is often the most difficult of choices. In fact, this is an area where most probably we all have difficulty. We can acknowledge things and aspects in our life as being of utmost importance insofar our wellbeing is concerned, yet persistently we continue to invest less and less time and energy precisely where they are mostly needed and where they can be mostly rewarding. This is the balance we often invoke but which remains so difficult to achieve. It is like pretending to cope without having renewable sources of physical, psychological and spiritual energy.
In today’s gospel text, Martha and Mary can easily serve as metaphors for the significance of religion in life. Martha stands for all that is exterior in religion. One can be religious, devout, practising, even active and adamant in observing the rules of religion. Mary represents that aspect of religion which may easily be lost in the noisiness of our cultural religiosity. This is the intimate, interior aspect where religion can actually serve as a catalyst to help us connect in the first place with ourselves.
These two facets of religion are not necessarily an either/or. Perhaps both are needed. Yet the former can easily end up being a distraction from the latter. And if and when religion is void of intimacy and interiority, then something essential to its very nature would be missing.
In this chapter of his Gospel, St Luke is highlighting two things and presenting them as bound to each other: In the parable of the Good Samaritan preceding today’s text, he points to religion in the person of the priest and the Levite as possibly closing their eyes to the suffering of others. Here, in the person of Martha, he is pointing to religion as possibly being in itself a distraction from listening to the Lord’s inner voice in our heart.
We need to submit our religion to this test; especially in this age when many have left religion without abandoning their faith. They simply fail to see the connection between the two. Maybe the way we perpetuate our religion – whatever we give people in our liturgies and in our churches – is simply failing to meet the basic and intimate demands of many.
In today’s second reading, St Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, writes of “the message which was a mystery hidden for generations and which has now been revealed”. This mystery, as Paul affirms, is “Christ among you”. Is the way we live and celebrate our religion actually highlighting Christ’s presence in our midst? A million-dollar question, I would say!
Jesus was an acquaintance for Martha and Mary. Martha knew Jesus was a special guest and that is how she welcomed and treated him. But Mary seemed to acknowledge something deeper about him. Rather than simply welcoming and treating him as a special guest, she just needed to stop and listen to what he had to say.
In the presence of Jesus, Mary seemed to know with more depth that actually she needed a treat, not him. Perhaps this gospel should make us delve deeper and deeper in our innermost selves in order to grasp better the solace that religion can still offer us in life.