With whom do we identify ourselves, Martha or Mary?

by May Tam
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gensis 18:1 - 10A

Colossians 1:24-28

Luke 10:38-42

In Luke's Gospel, the story of Martha and Mary follows the parable of the Good Samaritan (rf Lk 10:30-37). While the Samaritan obeys the commandment of love by actively giving help to a man victimized by robbers, despite of him being a Jew and an enemy of Samaritans, Luke gives a different illustration of love in Mary – a love of placing herself at Jesus' feet and listening to Him. Jesus certainly appreciates Martha's love in serving Him, just like the “three men” appreciates Abraham's hospitality and generosity in the First Reading (rf Gn 18:2). Jesus' gentle reproach of Martha for being “anxious and worried about many things” is not about her service, but as a reminder of not letting the busy life of service to distract her from spending time with Him (Lk 10:41).

If Jesus is visiting us today, with whom do we identify ourselves, Martha or Mary? Most of us would not be completely like Martha or Mary. It is likely we have both of them within us and at times we may alternate to act like Martha or Mary. Some people engage in direct ministry to the poor and the sick but some do not have the opportunities to practice active service. Contemplative religious, for example, spend their lives within convents or monasteries; working, praying and meditating on the Word of God. They are greatly valued as the “power house” of prayers for the Church and the world.

St. Therese of the Child Jesus has an unsettling longing to be a missionary, but as a contemplative nun in the convent of Lisieux in France, her wish could not be possibly realized. Yet together with St Francis Xavier who travelled extensively and actively converted much of Asia, she was declared a co-patron of the missions in 1927 by Pope Pius XI. In reading St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians in which the apostle says that the greater gifts (like martyrdom and apostleship) are nothing at all if they are without love (rf to 1 Cor 12, 13), St Therese finally finds her calling and her place in the Church – a call to love in the heart of the Church and to be a missionary to save souls through prayers and sacrifices (rf St Therese Story of a Soul Chapter IX). Thus, contemplative life is not meant only for one's sanctity but for the Church and humanity at large. In the Gospel, Mary has similarly found her place – it is by her Master's feet, listening to His words.

Evidently, discipleship of Jesus includes not only knowing about Him, like learning His past, His deeds and sayings but more essentially, knowing Him in person, that is, being in relationship with Him. Jesus as the son of God, while He was on earth, in His busy ministry of teaching, preaching and healing, often found time to be with His heavenly Father in quietness and solitude (rf Mt 14:23, Mk 6:46, Lk 6:12 Jn 6:15). Therefore, true discipleship implies not only following the example of Jesus in daily activities, but also taking time to be with Him in silence and stillness, in prayer and adoration and in each other’s company and love.

So the first step to establish a good relation with someone is to listen but how are we able to listen if there are distractions all around? Likewise, service is a good thing but there is often a danger that excessive activism will overwhelm us and draw us away from spending time in God's presence. No doubt, monasteries or convents are ideal settings for contemplative life to prosper; but by no means that it is the only mode of life that leads us closer to God. Christian spirituality, consists of a daily spiritual practice in silence with its full maturity in a contemplative dimension, can have equal opportunity to develop that good relationship with God. Good works will flow from a Christ-centered life naturally but on their own, they will not produce a Christ-centered life if they are done without the presence of Christ. When we make room for God's presence, He will certainly provide us with guidance and strength, empowering us to serve others.