Whenever life gets to be too heavy, the world proposes its ways to lighten it up and unwind: drugs, alcohol, speed, travels, a change of pace, trying something totally new or extreme or wild and so on. We, of course, have our own ways, tested over time, and in different settings. By now, we know what works for us somewhat and what doesn’t work.
However, today we are invited to consider how we can refresh our soul by introducing God into the equation. By looking at what happened in the life of Abraham we might realize that God desires to visit us whenever our day grows hot; i.e. whenever the weight on our heart is heaviest and our ways of seeking refreshment prove insufficient.
With every new day, the hearts of Abraham and Sarah were getting heavier and heavier. God’s promise of an heir was harder to hold on to: both were very advanced in age and Sarah was way past her child-bearing age.
Turning to the Gospel passage, we see how, in the person of Jesus, God accepts Martha’s hospitality and finds a way to lighten her soul and soothe her restless heart. Now, we shall wonder why these two encounters with God are offered to our consideration so that we might benefit spiritually from them.
Like Martha, we might be convinced that our familiar world cannot function without us.
It would be a conviction that would be the logical outcome of needing to be in charge of most situations and in firm control. We would be convinced that we know better than anyone else what has to be done; and how it has to be done. Others would be foolish, so we think, not to accept our help and our way of helping. However, since we are beset with our share of human limitations, our days would inevitably be marred by agitation, anxiety, worries and a very heavy heart. Therefore, this unpleasant interpretation of life would leave us also puzzled and frustrated because those around us would seldom follow us and would show little or no appreciation for all the work that we do.
If this is our interpretation of life, we might soon realize how foolish and pretentious it can become.
Martha intended to help Jesus unwind and enjoy her hospitality, but she wound up asking him to act as a referee between her and her sister Mary while, of course, siding with her against Mary.
Looking at these two encounters with God we learn that he refreshes our soul by drawing closer and closer to our situation while enabling us to keep him at the center of our life, as in Abraham’s case, or to place him now at the center of our life, as in Martha’s case.
Since Abraham is not self-centered, his heavy heart doesn’t keep him from showering his divine Guest with a superb display of oriental hospitality and is, thus, rewarded in a most surprising fashion: “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a son.” Genesis 18:10
But God refreshes the heart of Martha as well.
He does it by forcing her to realize that the agitation, the anxiety and the restlessness of her heart were all of her own making. Jesus shows her that it was time to place the Father at the center of her life by choosing the better part as her sister Mary had done so naturally.
Well, with these two situations before our eyes, I submit to you that the Church is teaching us how to pray in such a way that prayer becomes our soul’s refreshment from above.
This is what two of the shortest verses of the Bible imply: Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17
The refreshment of our soul is intimately connected to our prayer life.
The surest way to find continuous and lasting refreshment for our soul is by sitting beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Luke 10:39
It is “the better part” which no one could take away from us because we would choose intentionally to place ourselves in a listening mode at the feet of the One who says: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28
The best type of prayer, then, flows naturally from the deep-seated conviction that God is and will always be at the center of our world while we would be deeply content to gravitate around him ready to do his will.
The refreshing of our soul begins and unfolds in our attentive and humble silence before what will be God’s plan for us. Listen to what the Bible says about being in a listening mode:
In anyone’s life: But Samuel said: “Does the LORD so delight in holocausts and sacrifices as in obedience to the command of the LORD? Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission than the fat of rams. 1 Samuel 15:22
In Samuel’s life: The LORD came and revealed his presence, calling out as before, “Samuel, Samuel!” Samuel answered, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 1 Samuel 3:10
In Mary’s life: Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Luke 1:38
In the life of Jesus talking to His heavenly Father:
Then I said, ‘As is written of me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do your will, O God.'” Hebrews 10:7
If we are like Martha, it would be hard to be refreshed by the Lord because we would become tense just at the sight of so many things and people needing our intervention.
If we are like Martha, it would be very hard for us to separate what we can reasonably do to help from what God alone can do; and leave it up to him to do, if he so wills.
Hopefully, today, we would also reach the inescapable conclusion that the prayer of silent listening to God (so enviable and so rewarding) is the result of deep faith in the detailed care and love that he has for each one of us and of deep knowledge of what he desires always to do so as to refresh our soul and fill us with joy.