16th Sunday in Ordinary time, 17 July 2016

From the Dean’s desk

Last Sunday in the parable of the Good Samaritan [Luke 10:25-37] we learnt that our intention to fulfil the Law – of loving God completely and loving our neighbour – has to be seen in appropriate and loving concern and action towards our neighbour, those who are in need of our time, friendship, companionship and love.   Today’s Gospel [Luke 10:38-42] expresses a similar theme of pastoral engagement and service.

The story of Jesus’ visit to the house of Martha and Mary [Luke 10:38-42] has often been seen as an example of the active versus the contemplative (the ‘doing’ versus the ‘listening’) aspects of the Christian life.  The one thing we need to do is to see the responses and the reactions of Martha and Mary as a single unit rather than as two separate entities, or as a clash of two different temperaments.  There is no right or wrong action here between Martha and Mary. Both of them are serving in their own way.

In considering this event we need to recognise that Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem [Luke 9:51].  As such his intention in visiting Martha and Mary was to acquire some quiet time for himself as he journeys to his fate in Jerusalem.  He was not after any fuss or exaggerated action for his sake. He simply wanted and required the element of human presence – spending some quality time with people who he loved and who loved him.  The point of this story is the level of hospitality that is offered to Jesus.  Martha initially welcomes him into her house [v. 38].  She is the first to offer Jesus hospitality. We hear that her sister, Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to him [v. 39].  At this stage Martha seems to forget her welcoming invitation as she becomes ‘distracted’ with all that she has to do!  At this point she becomes not welcoming but resentful of her sister’s stance.  All aspects of hospitality are forgotten!

We learn from this event that true hospitality firstly involves attending to the person to whom the hospitality is issued.  Jesus required only the space and encouragement of human company. This hospitality was given to him by Mary.  Martha offered him a hospitality that he did not want. In order for us to be hospitable we need to see into the heart of the person we are trying to serve. There should be no conditions to our hospitality if it is oriented towards the needs of the person rather than our own.  It is only when we listen deeply and intently to the one we wish to serve, that we can offer them the service they require.

As we contemplate this Gospel passage we are challenged to see that there needs to be a balance in our spiritual and apostolic lives.  We cannot be of service to everyone continually and completely, without having some time in prayer.  This would run the risk of allowing all our service to remain at the level of community service and welfare.  Similarly, we need to recognise that we cannot spend our entire day in prayer, without taking into account the needs of our neighbour.  This would allow our prayer life to be fruitless.  We need to be like both Mary and Martha.  We need to be strengthened at the feet of Jesus, listening to, and being strengthened and challenged by his word.  Renewed by this, then, we can set out with confidence to tend to the needs of those around us in a truly Christian manner. Mary and Martha represent the two sides of the same coin.  May we learn from both of their styles how to bring balance into our spiritual and apostolic lives.

Fr Robert Bossini
Dean and Parish Priest