One thing only is required.
We in America are so much the victims of “consumerism” that we are often unaware of being victimized.
“Consumerism” is the habit of buying whatever catches our fancy. The manufacturers of products – any sort of products – exploit this human weakness by trying to persuade us that we just can’t be happy without one of their gadgets. How much have we been victimized by this sort of advertising pressure? Well, for starts, how many things have we bought that frankly we don’t need?
Martha, in today’s gospel, was not exactly a consumerist, but she shared in the mood by getting uptight about non-essentials. When she even scolded Jesus for letting her sister, Mary, sit and listen to Him, rather than help her peel the potatoes and set the table, our Lord told her off gently but firmly. Among all our human obligations He said, there is only one thing that really counts – preparation for heaven. All else is subordinate. “Mary”, He concluded, “has chosen the better portion, and she shall not be deprived of it.”
Not long ago a reporter from the Los Angeles Herald Examiner interviewed the veteran character actor, Anthony Quinn. In the 1960’s Quinn played the title role in the movie “Zorba the Greek”. Zorba was a poor man, but a strong, independent soul. He knew that happiness does not depend on how many gadgets we have, but how well-rounded we are as persons. As the actor became absorbed in this role, he came to admire Zorba for really knowing how to live, and he took his lessons to heart. “I’ve learned,” said Quinn, “that cars do not satisfy me … swimming pools I can live without. Zorba tells us to get back to essentials. He doesn’t want anything. He doesn’t need anything. We have the wrong goals. We are teaching our kids to live the wrong way.”
Zorba is not, of course, the only man to have achieved this sort of wisdom. The pagan Chinese philosopher, LaoTzu, expressed much the same idea: “To have little is to possess. To have plenty is to be perplexed.” And St. Paul said: “We seem to have nothing, yet everything is ours.”
-Father Robert F. McNamara
Q433: Why don’t Mary or Lazarus receive a special world-wide “feast day,” rather than just Martha? Wasn’t it Mary who “chose the better part”?
There is an interesting connection between the First Reading (Genesis 18:1-10) and today’s Gospel (Luke 10:38-42). At the surface level, Abraham goes out of his way to provide hospitality to his three visitors (the Lord in disguise). Likewise, Martha and Mary are extending hospitality to the Lord. A theme common to both readings seems to be their willingness to serve the Lord.
Then comes the new wrinkle in the gospel: Martha sort of complains that she is doing all the work, or at least needs help. So she tells the Lord to “disengage” Mary from his teaching, so that Mary can assist her in the kitchen. The Lord surprisingly refuses, and replies to Martha that Mary has made a very good choice – in fact, the only choice one should ever make!
That clearly is the point of the gospel story: listening to the Lord and resting in his presence is more important that busying oneself with the duties or routines of daily life. Mary chose to listen to the Lord; Martha chose (as her first priority) to work in the kitchen. Both are necessary, but when the Lord is present, our own agenda must be put aside to hear what the Lord wishes to teach us.
Martha gained more status in the eyes of the Church because she was the one who later came forward and expressed her belief in the divinity of Jesus. Before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, Martha told him, “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world” (John 11:27). Is it possible that Jesus worked his miracle of raising Lazarus only because of Martha’s faith? In any event, Martha’s profession of faith earned her a special, annual feast day, July 29.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The duty of passing forward the Lord’s teachings is now the responsibility of every lay Christian by virtue of their Baptism and Confirmation (CCC #900). This is how the world can hear the Gospel anc come to know Christ (ibid.). Faith comes from hearing (Romans 10:17)!
Q589: How can we become more like Martha’s sister Mary?
We really ought to rivet our attention on one key clause in today’s gospel story about Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42). It says “there is need of only one thing.” Just like Jesus himself, God’s inspired word is the same yesterday, today and forever (cf. Hebrews 13:8). So what is the one thing that you and I really need?
Just for a moment, put yourself into the sandals of Martha. She is the first one to greet Jesus; but then she goes scurrying off to do her other chores. We aren’t told whether she was sweeping the house, preparing a meal, cleaning the outdoor oven, mending clothes, or simply engaging in the duties associated with hospitality. Whatever those many tasks were, they kept her fully occupied and unavailable to Jesus.
Compare that with the way your own normal day begins and continues. After you are awake, dressed and fed, do you give the Lord a quick “Good Morning” and then set about your tasks for the day in the style of Martha? Or do you spend some quality time first at the feet of the Lord, like Mary, reflecting on his teachings? What method do you use to grow in your faith? Jesus is trying to move the focus of Martha (and us) from the physical to the spiritual level.
Faith comes from hearing; but that faith cannot grow unless we enter the Lord’s presence and let him teach us every single day. We need to read and reflect on the daily Mass scripture readings that bring us those teachings. Do you belong to a bible study group, which helps one focus on God’s word?
Being in the Lord’s presence and listening to him is the one thing we need the most.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The Church vigorously urges us to read scripture daily, accompanied by prayer. We speak to him when we pray; we listen to him when we read his holy word (CCC #2653).
One Thing Is Necessary
Both the first and the third readings this Sunday deal with hospitality. In Genesis we see Abram scurrying to greet his guests and prepare suitable refreshment for them, attentive to their every need. He is rewarded for his efforts by the promise of a son. In Luke we see Martha scurrying to prepare a meal for her guest Jesus. It is a surprise when Jesus tells her she has her priorities wrong. Why? Martha had complained that her sister wasn’t pulling her share of the work and Jesus was letting her get away with it! But Jesus doesn’t accept that view of the situation. She has her priorities wrong. Unlike Abram and Mary she is so “worried and distracted” by the work, so concerned with her work that she has forgotten the point of it all. One thing only is necessary — attention to the guest, whether by attentive listening or by cooking. The point is that the one thing necessary is not the work but the primacy of Jesus and his word. Discipleship is first and foremost a personal bonding with Jesus, the one thing necessary for those who would follow Jesus.
Dear Lord, I so often get like Martha, anxious and distracted over many things, trying to deal with many different demands on my time and attention. I don’t always get a clear view of priorities. Let me hear your word speak to me so that I may know what your agenda is for me right now. Like Samuel let me respond, “Speak Lord, the servant heareth.”