The Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: Gen 18:1-10a; Col 1:24-28; Lk 10:38-42]
One day the father of several children came home from a hard day’s work in the hot sun on a construction site. He settled into an easy chair, opened a can of beer and began reading the evening newspaper. Soon one of his boys interrupted him and asked for money to repair his bicycle. A little later another son said, “Dad, would you help me with these math problems?” Half an hour later, when he had picked up the paper again, his oldest lad came along and wanted to know if he could use the car that evening. After handing over the car keys he tried to settle down. But not for long. His youngest child ran into the living room, tugged at his newspaper, and said, “Daddy, Daddy!” Feeling annoyed he asked her, “What do you want?” She replied, “Daddy, I don’t want anything except to sit in your lap and love you.”
When Mary sat at the feet of Jesus with the loving, attentive heart of a young disciple, she gave him something more important than the meal Martha was preparing. It was like the day Jesus spoke with a Samaritan woman by Jacob’s well and afterwards told his disciples he had food to eat of which they did not know, because this foreign, Samaritan woman fed him with a listening heart and believed in him. In the story of these two sisters, Mary who listens with love and Martha who loves by serving, Martha offers Jesus things, while Mary offers herself. But it is not a story about favoring one sister and not the other, or enjoying contemplative times of prayer without any active times of service. This story is about granting discipleship to all women. It is one of those revolutionary moments in the life of Jesus when he overturns the customs of centuries. Like the day he broke with Jewish customs by speaking with the Samaritan woman and opened the way of discipleship to foreigners. Or, the day Jesus overturned dietary laws by declaring all foods clean, or the day he commanded his disciples to love their enemies, not to hate them. It was unheard of for a woman to sit at a rabbis’ feet, to be his attentive disciple. Martha’s complaint that Mary is letting her do all the serving is also a reproach of Mary for acting like a male disciple by sitting at Jesus’ feet. His response changes everything: “Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” The better part that Jesus offers to Mary he also offers to Martha. Today Martha serves and Mary sits. Tomorrow Mary will serve and Martha will sit at Jesus’ feet. Both are called to sit at the feet of Jesus with listening love at one time, and to hand Jesus a cup of cold water with serving love at another time.
The blessing of discipleship, of being good soil in which the Word of God is planted, applies to Martha as well as Mary. And Jesus’ warning about being troubled and worried, choked by the weeds of anxiety, applies to Mary as well as Martha, indeed to all of us. In one of the Peanuts’ comic strips, Linus says to Charlie Brown, “I guess it’s wrong always to be worrying about tomorrow. Maybe we should [worry] only about today.” Charlie Brown, who worries about everything, replies, “No, that’s giving up. I’m still [worrying about yesterday] hoping it will get better.”
Jesus tells us: “Do not worry about your life and what you will eat, or your body and what you will wear, … do not worry about what you are to say,” (Lk 12:11-24), “Do not become weighed down by the anxieties of daily life,” (Lk 21:34-36). Rather, “Receive the kingdom of God like a child,” (Lk 18:17), as carefree as a child.
Once the chief executive officer of a large corporation was invited to speak at a business meeting. He talked about learning from children, especially their ability to adapt to changing circumstances. He said, ” I became really annoyed at my very young daughter and decided to impose an Army practice to teach her respect. I commanded her to begin and end everything she said with the word “Sir.” “Sir, may I go out and play, Sir?” “Sir, my brothers are picking on me, Sir.” “Sir, do I have to eat these carrots, Sir?” This little routine was working so well I began to forget I wasn’t an officer and she wasn’t a soldier, until one day she got into the back seat of my car, put her little hands on the sides of my neck and said, “Sir, I love you, Sir.”
Both Martha and Mary became saints, contemplative and active disciples of Jesus, sharers in his priestly, prophetic, and kingly life. They listened to the Word God spoke, they served the needs of Christ’s Body, and they prayed with the simplicity and lightheartedness of a child saying, “Lord, I love you, Lord.”
The Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: Jer 23, 1-6; Eph 2:13-18; Mk 6:30-34]
For anyone who treasures privacy the life of a celebrity does not appear as a role model. Consider the fact that this person is in the public eye, scrutinized for whatever course of life he or she has chosen to live. To have complete strangers approach you and ask questions about yourself and your personal life that they have no right of asking. As though your popularity breaks down all barriers of human restraint and curiosity. You become an open target for the inquisitive and transient. Consider the quiet desperation of one former well known professional athlete. “How can I get these fans off my back?”
In today’s gospel Jesus is engulfed with persons in such a way that he and his disciples had no opportunity to eat. A strategic plan to get away is easily thwarted by the insistence of a crowd not easily deterred from its aggressiveness. Jesus is indeed the great teacher and the great healer. A combination that has not been matched. And yet there are times recorded in the Gospel when he simply had to take time to be by himself and pray to his heavenly Father for everything he had on his mind. How much can someone extend himself and be in the presence of others and still maintain a semblance of equanimity? There has to be a balance between tension and relaxing if you are going to maintain your sanity.
In our own lives we need periods where we can be alone to ask ourselves some of the hard questions. What am I doing with my life? Where does it lead? The eternal truths are not going to fade away by ceaseless activity. Where am I going to spend eternity? Others can help us in their own way but the ultimate direction depends on the individual. The examined life is spread before us. Privacy then becomes a treasure island that helps keep the sharks away.
The Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: Wis 12:13, 16-19; Rom 8:26-27; Mt 13:24-43]
A characteristic of American society that is mentioned from time to time in articles and discussions is our concern for speed. Even when statistics indicate that there are fewer accidents at lower driving speeds, we want to increase the speed limits. A selling point for computers is their increased speed of operation over older models; older being six months ago. In itself increasing the speed with which we do things is not necessarily a bad thing. In some cases it can result in saving lives. In other cases it can result in injuring or destroying lives. I suspect that one widespread result of our concern with speed is that we are becoming increasingly impatient.
At times our impatience can put us at variance with the rhythms of nature. Although we get our quick results, we can be dissatisfied with their quality, or we are too tired or too tense to enjoy the fruit of our efforts. More importantly, our impatience can put us at variance with God’s way of acting. One lesson from salvation history is that God is not in a hurry. To put it in our way of speaking, God is concerned with the quality of what is done not with how quickly it is done.
Perhaps that is one of the reasons why so many of Jesus’ parables about the kingdom of heaven have to do with growth. Growth is not simply a sequence of events that are independent of time, and there are limits to how much we can manipulate the timing of the growth process without impairing the results. Beyond this, when it comes to God’s plan of salvation we don’t know what the goal of the process is. We are all called to make our contribution to God’s plan of salvation, but it is not a matter of my deciding what I want to do and then praying to God to give me the ability to do it. As St. Paul reminds us we don’t even know what to pray for. God’s plan for us goes beyond anything that we can imagine. Eye has not seen nor ear heard nor has it arisen in the human heart what God has prepared for those who love him. My good idea may make sense in the short run, but from God’s perspective it may do more harm than good.
We may be unimpressed and disappointed with the work that God has given us, but that is usually because we are engaged in one our favorite pastimes: comparing ourselves with those around us. This morning’s parable of the woman kneading bread is one of my favorites. It is a reminder that hidden and unspectacular work may be the most effective.
Patience is not just a matter of my being willing to wait long enough for the result that I want to happen. First and foremost it is the willingness to accept God’s way of acting when we do not understand why things are happening the way they are. God is not aloof from our concerns. He desires our happiness more than we do. God does not refrain from acting because he is weak. On the contrary, because he is strong he acts with mercy and kindness. Often our impatience reveals our weakness and anxiety, and results in behavior which is harsh and unkind. God’s patience is not procrastination. He desires that we turn to him in love and he is willing to wait for us to learn through trial and error that he is the source of our happiness.
Nevertheless there is the season for the harvest when the plant or tree is expected to yield its fruit. God will act when he is ready. Will we have used his patience well and be ready for God when he comes to test our work?