Homily for 17 July

In the first reading, Abraham invites the guests, but it is his wife and servant who then have to do all the work… The Gospel does not provide us with easy answers; it raises questions for us.

I invite a friend over who is going through a stressful time but when she comes, I am continually leaving her to go to the kitchen to get food and drink. To whose need am I responding? Hers or mine? I need to provide hospitality, but in this case, surely, I could provide what is needed and then attend to her? Do my preoccupations prevent my listening?

Jesus comes to Martha’s house. Her younger sister is there. Why is Jesus there? He has come to serve: ‘I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.’ Mary allows him to serve her; she responds as a disciple to his presence, sitting at his feet, listening to him. Martha responds as she believes a host should, but is she truly responding to him who has come to give life? He still needs to be fed, but can she not provide what is needed while seeking to listen to him? The Gospel uses the Greek word for Martha’s activity which means ‘to be pulled in all directions at once’, ‘to be distracted’. She has withdrawn from Jesus’ presence and is absorbed by other things. What she is doing is not bad, but all this excessive activity is keeping her experiencing what is most important. She is doing too much and not aware of Jesus’ wanting to speak to her.

Driven to distraction and worry, she does not speak to her sister, Mary, instead she reproaches Jesus; he, the guest, is not doing anything to relieve the load she has taken on herself. He should get Mary to help her. But why is he there? Martha is a good woman, but she is worried and stretching herself in multiple directions. Does she need someone to be as distracted and worried as she is? Perhaps Jesus sees her need better than she does.

Jesus tries to re-direct Martha to what is truly important. He speaks to her affectionately, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried – ‘looking to the future with fear or anguish and so not in the present with its grace.’ Her preoccupations have separated her from her sister, from Jesus and what he is saying. Mary, on the other hand, has chosen to be a disciple and Jesus asks Martha to learn from her younger sister. Discipleship, listening to Jesus, places things in perspective. Martha was deprived of joy; her fear left her feeling that the Lord was distant, that she was unsupported by others and that the weight of the world was on her shoulders alone.

Listening to Jesus, allowing him to serve us with his love and mercy, is the one thing necessary for a disciple. It is not the only thing necessary for there is much work to be done, but we learn to receive the help which the Lord is giving us in our present, help, grace, wisdom which may be different to what we think we need. There are only so many hours in the day, but we can try to listen in the midst of our busyness as well as in a time of prayer – ‘Lord, I have this endless ironing to do. I have a pile of paperwork. Hello. I am tired. Where are you right now?’ Listening in prayer helps us remain connected to the Lord who is the heart of our faith and our life; and it assists us in remaining joined, connected to our brothers and sisters.

We can be distracted, pulled in multiple directions. The Lord knows our need better than we do. Our good Lord asks us to let him serve us so that we can more freely and joyfully serve him and our brothers and sisters.