Hopefully, we all remember last Sunday’s final words of Jesus in the passage from the Gospel of Luke (10:25-37): “Go and do likewise.” To attain eternal life we ought to draw close, to become neighbor to anyone in need.
On the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Lord (Luke 10:38-42) desires to keep us away from some pitfalls as “doers,” as people who are willing to become neighbor to those in need. Martha symbolizes all those disciples-doers who take his teachings seriously.
In the Orient, hospitality has always been a very important and demanding task for the host. Just look at Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 18:1-10) and how they felt obligated to fuss about their heavenly Guests to whom, according to etiquette, they had to give nothing but the best they could afford, and then some.
Last Sunday we reminded ourselves also that, by being doers, by becoming neighbor to anyone in need, we become neighbor to the Lord himself. (cf. Matthew 25: 31-46) However, in our eagerness to be doers, we might tarnish our performance, partially spoil the outcome and embarrass ourselves if we are driven by self-appreciation.
Unquestionably, the Lord cherished Martha’s cares and hospitality. He was a frequent guest in her house whenever he spent time in nearby Jerusalem; yet today’s brief account reveals that she went the wrong way about being a doer. Her eyes were obscured by self-importance and by worries about making the best impression possible. Consequently, she found it logical to expect that her sister would read the situation the same way she did. The thought that, in her request to Jesus, she sounded manipulative and controlling, could have never crossed her mind. In reality, Jesus would have appreciated a less elaborate meal that would have not spoiled his enjoyment by being asked to referee a family dispute between the two sisters.
If we are confident of being good doers, we might equate that conviction with being good Christians, good Samaritans, when, in reality, we might be … atheists. A famous Jesuit lecturer said that habitual worrying is a mild form of atheism. Jesus points that out to Martha: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.”
If worrying is our habitual inner disposition; if we are anxious about many things and we wonder why people are not as efficient as we consider ourselves to be; if we get easily upset about undesirable turns of events; chances are that we might suffer from a mild form of atheism. We would be overlooking the presence of the Lord guiding people and events with His mighty arm, omniscient mind and most compassionate heart. Mild atheism can be visible in our concern for getting the recognition and the appreciation that we feel our actions deserve. Thus, we would fail to realize and to believe that God sees all actions even those done in secret and that, actually, He is the only one who knows the real intentions behind each action.
Atheism, as ignorance of God’s presence, would also show in our attempt at changing others to get them to see it our way and to do our bidding: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” Yet, those attempts would be not only nearly impossible but also very frustrating.
Jesus calls us to see reality with the eyes of faith: “Mary has chosen the better part.” Yes, she has realized that we cannot become neighbor to others; we cannot be good Samaritans unless, before going and doing likewise, we stop and acknowledge Jesus as the true Host, the one with the better part to give us. We have to be filled with his Word, be inspired by his Spirit before we can be good doers and neighbor to others. Before we can be a good Martha we must be a good Mary, a good listener of Jesus and of his Word. Sadly, our technologically-oriented society might be depriving us of the opportunity to appreciate the divine Host, to sit at his feet and listen to his Word.
There is a vital lesson to be learned here: to be efficient, to get the wanted outcomes in a short time, seldom results in emotional and spiritual growth. Actually, too much speed, too much efficiency would impoverish us and might make us oblivious of the divine Host who wishes to make us rich with His grace. Pursuit of perfection and efficiency nurture our self-importance and make us look past those to whom we are to draw close so as to become their neighbor.
How can we pause and listen and reflect and pray and enjoy the divine presence if we are intent on controlling people, things and events?
These mild forms of atheism could make us restless, demanding, impatient, arrogant, rude and unappreciative of others unless, first, they conform to our ways. Unmindful of God’s presence, we would let the darker side of our soul rule us, oftentimes with undesirable, tragic results. Consequently, we run the risk that true, lasting values are not sought after; minutiae keep us from focusing on real substance; little things turn into huge obstacles.
Life loses the flavor that is meant to flow also from a sense of wonder and awe before the things the Lord does in us and all around us. If we insist on being only a replica of Martha, one day we might find ourselves incapable of communion with God, with people, with nature. On that day we could not blame any Mary around us as being the cause of our self-made miseries.
Hence, wising up with the help of the Holy Spirit, we shall be freed of all of our big worries, self-appreciation and obsession with results, with control over events and people as well as fixation with efficiency. We shall choose the better portion of realizing the divine presence that desires to enrich our soul. Then quiet recollection and silence will be more eloquent than words, as they will lead us to actions guided by the Lord’s teachings.