16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 21, 2019
If this Sunday’s Gospel doesn’t trigger at least one childhood memory, chances are pretty good that you are an only child. However, if you have one or more siblings, the little drama between Martha and Mary probably sounds very familiar. Who hasn’t, at least on one occasion…in a whiny tone of voice shouted out…TELL HIM TO HELP ME! Or if you are a parent, odds are good that you have had to come up with an answer to the questions: WHY ME? WHY CAN’T SHE DO IT?
This is typical background noise common in most family homes. Nevertheless, it’s a bit of a surprise to hear this kind of domestic squabble reported in the Gospel. It sure gets our attention. The familiarity of it makes it fairly easy to enter the story. But, rest assured, there is a lot more here than the matter of conflict resolution.
In a way, Jesus was both Guest as well as Host. He played guest to Martha, who was rushing around frantically trying to get a meal on the table. But, at the same time, The Lord was actually hosting Mary, as He nourished her spirit with the Good News. What Jesus provided was food that would sustain her throughout her earthly life and carry her into eternity. No matter how much effort Martha put into the meal she would be serving, her guests would be hungry again. Mary was feasting on truth and truth is eternal…and would never be taken from her.
That being said, at some point during His visit, even Jesus heard His stomach growl. At that point, Martha’s service was certainly appreciated. We have to feed the body as well as the spirit.
It occurs to me that the same sort of dynamic happens when we gather for Eucharist. We invite Christ into our midst. He arrives as our guest. As the hosts, we prepare a simple meal of bread and wine. But before we set the Communion Table, we do just what Mary did. We sit at Jesus’s feet and listen. Our attention is focused on the Table of the Word as The Guest becomes The Host, serving up Good News…Truth…the words of everlasting life. And like the first course at a fancy banquet, it stimulates our appetite for more. So we move to the Communion Table where The Bread of Life and The Cup of our Salvation is placed before us. At these two Tables, we become what we eat. And what we have been served can’t be taken from us. It nourishes us in this life, and enables us to pass peacefully into the next.
But then we leave.
As we walk through the doors of our church, the “Martha” within each of us is called into action. Strengthened by the Word and The Eucharist, it’s our time to serve!
It’s a bit of a surprise to hear this kind of familiar domestic squabble reported in the Gospel, but it is definitely a story that draws us in and warrants reflection. And what we learn is that it is important to get our priorities straight. There are times when we are expected to just sit and listen to what God has to, say to us, and other times when God expects us to serve.