16th Sun [C] 2004

Fr. Charles Irvin


Genesis 18:1-10; Colossians 1:24-28; Luke 10:38-42

It’s difficult for us to imagine the importance attached to hospitality in the culture in which Jesus lived 2000 years ago. Being invited to eat in one’s home was of tremendous significance. It was not only a sign of honor, it also was a statement about closeness, closeness that amounted to saying “you’re one of the family.” Inviting someone into your home today is very meaningful, but back then it had the greatest significance attached to it.

Martha was engaged in a very important service. Because it was Jesus who was the invited guest, it was even a holy service. We need to see that Jesus was certainly not criticizing Martha or her efforts. As a matter of fact we should note that Martha’s love was more fervent than Mary’s. Why? Because before Jesus had even arrived at their home, she was ready to serve him. And remember that when Jesus came to their house to raise their brother Lazarus from the dead it was Martha who ran to him and came out first to welcome him. Along with all of this we need to see that virtue is not found in only one aspect – it is expressed in many ways.

In the gospel account just read, we see St. Luke presenting Martha and Mary as two sisters who both want to please the Lord. And in fact, both do please Him. The difference between them is that Martha’s path, hospitality and caring for others, does not have consequences that last forever. Mary’s path, however, being close to the Lord by sitting at His feet and taking His words into her heart, has eternal consequences, consequences that pass beyond human life here on earth. Martha takes the way of service, the path of working for the Lord. Mary takes the path of relationship — being with the Lord. One path involves doing; the other path involves being. Service of God is transitory; listening to and taking in the word of God is eternal. The former is not as necessary as the latter. Only one thing is necessary: union with the Lord.

There’s much to be done for the Lord, and there’s much to be done for God’s people. Caring for the hungry, the homeless, the neglected, the underprivileged and the marginalized are very much a part of what we, as the followers of Christ, should be all about. After all, didn’t Jesus set the example? To reach the soul, one must begin with the body. The one necessary thing, however, is union with God.

We, in our culture, seem to have developed the attitude that says: “If you favor A, then you’re against B, C, or D. Presently the Catholic Church suffers a lot of criticism based on that mistaken attitude. For instance, when the Church states that it favors male priests the cry immediately goes up that the Catholic Church is against women, even, we are told, that it hates women, and that the bishops are male, chauvinists who always discriminate against women by keeping them down as second class members of the Church. On another question we’re told that the Roman Church considers marriage to be “second class” because it prefers celibates to be its priests.

We need to ask ourselves: Does favoring one thing mean rejection of all others?

To return to St. Luke’s gospel, recall an earlier event in Christ’s life when He was invited to a Pharisee’s house and was snubbed by His host. It was customary in those days to receive dinner guests by washing their feet, giving them a welcome kiss, and perfuming them with sweet smelling oil. The Pharisee did not honor Jesus with any of these gestures. We can only surmise that the snub was deliberate – an indirect statement of disrespect.

During the meal a woman “with a bad reputation in town” approached Him, washed His feet with her tears, wiped His feet with her hair, covered them with her kisses and then anointed them with precious oil. It shocked everyone while at the same time revealing the hypocrisy of his host. Jesus said to His host: “Simon, do you see this woman? I came into your house and you poured no water over my feet, but she has poured out her tears over my feet and wiped them away with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but she has been covering my feet with kisses ever since I came in. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed by feet with precious ointment.” Do we, with Martha, welcome Jesus into the house of our hearts?

In today’s gospel account we need to see that Jesus is not asking us to choose between being a Martha or being a Mary. To be fully a disciple of Jesus we need to be both Martha and Mary. Furthermore, we need to see that in order to be a good Martha, we must first be a good Mary. It is absolutely necessary to see who we are, what we’re doing with our lives, and what our lives, filled as they are with so very many activities, are all about. What does God want me to be doing? Is what I am doing pleasing to God?

Quiet times, times of reflection, and times spent in “sitting at the feet of the Lord” while listening seem to regarded these days as luxuries. In truth, they are not – they are absolute necessities. Some translations of the bible have Jesus saying to Martha, “Only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen it and it will not be taken away from her.”

Be honest with yourself now, and ask yourself these questions:

Is my life focused? Do I have a singleness of purpose in my life? Am I leading a holistic life – a life directed clearly toward a purposeful goal?

If you have trouble answering those questions then you need to put some time of reflection into your life. You need to “sit at the feet of the Lord”, so to speak, and recover ‘the one thing that is necessary’ and that is missing in your life. Otherwise you’ll be “worried and concerned about many things,” doing all sorts of things, and feeling as if you’re accomplishing little, if anything.

Fear may, perhaps, be holding you back – fear that God may be angry with you. Try as best you can to set that fear aside. Find a place of solitude and silence. Begin by simply telling God that you love Him and want to do what He wants you to do. Have the courage to do that based on the knowledge that God loves you and wants you to experience His love. We know that to be true because that’s the core message of Jesus Christ — and you can rely on it. Then in that silent solitude, let your conversation with God begin.

Years ago, back in 1954, one of the greatest Christian writers of our times, Romano Guardini, wrote a wonderful book simply titled The Lord. In it he said “For the greatest things are accomplished in silence – not in the clamor and display of superficial eventfulness, but in the deep clarity of inner vision; in the almost imperceptible start of decision, in quiet overcoming and hidden sacrifice.”

Light, God’s light, is overcoming the darkness that surrounds our souls. Peace, God’s peace, is overcoming the fear in our hearts. Love, God’s love, can overcome our inner loneliness. His presence, power and love patiently waits for us, waits for us to come, sit at His feet, and let Him speak His words, His life-giving words of love, deep within our hearts.

Two Marys have shown us the way – Mary, the sister of Lazarus, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, our own Mother Mary. Ask them to help you.

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”