Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Like last week’s gospel, the reading this week emphasizes the importance of heeding the word of Jesus. Heeding His words is what St. Benedict calls “truly seeking God.” It is the common good, the common object of love that binds together a community. Anything less than that leaves room for egos to bring tensions and rivalry into a community. Martha illustrates that. Although she is just cooking, Jesus knows she is worried about “many things.” Her attention is distracted by the anxieties of life. Luke cites many warnings of Jesus against such worry: “do not worry about what you will eat…what you will wear…”; “…some seeds fell among thorns and were choked off by the anxieties of life…”; “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from…the anxieties of daily life…”

In communities, these cases can cause one’s own personality to be put before common principles. Goodness, being a really good, obedient boy, is put before holiness or even made to pass for holiness.

Abraham is an example of holiness, of kindness. He receives three people, but speaks to only one, who is described as “the Lord.” Only one, before leaving, promises Abraham the son he has longed for so that God can fulfill His promise to a holy one that He will “make of you a great nation.”

 Jesus comes to that nation and receives a similar welcomed from Martha and Mary. He, too, leaves good news: “Mary has chosen the better part.” She is paying attention to One Thing; everything else is valued according to that. In saying this, Jesus is not ascribing primacy to contemplative life over the active ministry. He is underscoring the importance of heeding His word. That is done by paying attention. We pay attention by praying; we show we heard by acting. Morality and spirituality go together inseparably. All are called to heed His word. In both listening and doing we benefit from the example of both Mary and Martha.

Living around the “one thing necessary” gives one inner unity. Inner unity frees one from the bondage of self and frees one to seek the good of the other for the others own sake.