17 July 2016: Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Gn 18:1-10a Ps 15:2-3, 3-4, 5 Col 1:24-28 Lk 10:38-42

The one important thing

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ stories and teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings continue to examine the commands of loving God and loving the neighbor.

In the first reading from Genesis, Abraham provides hospitality to three guests, following the customs and culture of his time. What is culturally unusual is that Abraham personally attends to his guests–Abraham, rather than his servants, “hastens,” “runs,” “takes,” “sets before,” and “waits on” them. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to parallel Martha’s similar hospitality to Jesus in today’s gospel.

In the second reading from the letter to the Colossians, the author describes his role in bringing forth the “mystery hidden from ages and generations.” Christ is God’s mystery; in Christ are hidden all the treasures and knowledge of God, which God has now revealed to all nations.

In the gospel, Luke continues Jesus’ teachings about the law of love. Despite everyone’s best intentions, serving God can sometimes seem to conflict with the need to serve the neighbor. Luke outlines the conflict and Jesus’ answer:

  • Martha provides hospitality to Jesus the neighbor: Luke tells us that “Martha received him,” that is, offered Jesus and his disciples hospitality. (See the gospel reading from two weeks ago, Lk 10:1-12, 17-20, for Jesus’ instructions about how disciples should accept hospitality.) Martha, like Abraham in the first reading, is all action, preparing and serving her guests.
  • Mary listens to Jesus the Word of God: Luke says that Mary sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to his word: What is culturally unusual is that Mary, a woman, would remain with the men to hear Jesus teach–Luke says “she was listening to the word of him.” In the ancient world, “to sit at the feet” of someone means “to become a follower or disciple.”
  • The conflict: Luke describes Martha as “burdened with much serving.” The Greek word περισπάω (peh-ree-SPAH-oh), here translated as “burdened,” really means “distracted.” That is, Martha’s serving distracts her from Jesus’ teachings. Martha’s distraction is cultural, not service-related–she worries that Mary’s discipleship would complicate their family relationships and social standing. Jesus discerns in Martha’s appeal–“Tell Mary to help me”–her real worry. He responds not to Martha’s request for help, but to her distraction.
  • The choice: Jesus tells Martha to worry about one thing: heeding the word of Jesus. This teaching harmonizes with Jesus’ earlier answer about love of God and love of neighbor as the basic observance needed for eternal life. (See last week’s gospel, Lk 10:25-37, for Jesus’ instructions about love of neighbor.) Martha’s action (love of neighbor) is important, but Mary’s action (love of God) is even more important.

This week’s readings ask RCIA participants and the believing community if we have our priorities straight. The law of love requires a careful balance between service and listening. Culture and social convention sometimes bias us to act without considering God’s encouraging words. Which “one thing” do we worry about?

–Terence Sherlock

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