Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Genesis 18:1-10a; Psalm 15:2-5; Colossians 1:24-28; Luke 10:38-42

First Reading: Today’s passage plays a pivotal role in the story of Abraham. It announces the birth of his son Isaac. Because Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was barren, the message was good news indeed. There is however, a theological significance to the manner in which the new arrives: within ambiguity.

Psalm 15: Psalm 15 may have been composed to serve as part of a liturgy for entering God’s Temple. The first verse (which is not in today’s pericope) poses the question, “Who may dwell on your holy mountain?” The remainder of the psalm answers the question.

Second Reading: Throughout his letters, Paul is unafraid to use himself as an example for his readers to emulate. Today’s passage is a prime example of his practice. He points here not to the suffering of Jesus but to his own sufferings as an apostle, and he claims that his sufferings are for the sake of the Colossians.

Gospel: This story about the sisters Martha and Mary occurs only in Luke’s Gospel. It is clear that Jesus is drawing a contrast between the actions of the two sisters and that he prefers the action of Mary.

Reflection: When having guests for dinner, we tend to become very nervous, hoping that everything will be a smashing success. We spend hours in the kitchen, clean our homes, make sure the gardens are well taken care of and run around making sure everyone has whatever they need during dinner. In today’s gospel, we somewhat see this same scenario unfolding before us.

Luke rarely names those he encounters, yet here he names two women and Martha is first. It is she who welcomed Jesus to her home and she who engages him in dialogue – and through her that a lesson is taught. Mary is introduced almost parenthetically, but the simple language describes a remarkable relationship. Mary assumes a disciple’s posture at Jesus’ feet, something women simply did not do. However, the scene in Martha’s home is a unique example of Luke’s penchant for depicting women as disciples of the Lord. While we are only told that Martha welcomes Jesus, we are shown how Mary did it – by listening. Luke’s emphasis is clear: true hospitality assumes the attitude of a disciple and eagerly listens to the word of the Lord. This is Luke’s primary concern, not a condemnation of Martha’s culinary zeal.

In this incident, we find Martha mirroring Abraham’s hospitality to the divine visitors. Whereas Abraham “hastened” and “ran” and called others into service, Martha seemingly lacked sufficient household staff and so found herself “burdened” by all the effort she was putting into serving.  Convinced that she was doing the correct thing, she asked Jesus to set her sister straight.

Interestingly, Martha was fulfilling the traditional role of a woman in the house, making sure that an honored guest received the attention due to him. Mary, on the other hand, was sitting in a traditional male posture, like a disciple at the rabbi’s feet, “listening to him.” In reality, gender roles are not the key issue in this scene, but rather the quality of the reception each was giving to Jesus. While Martha was serving, a self-directed activity which fulfilled social expectations, Mary was “listening,” an activity of attentive response to her guest.

Before we can carry on the mission of Jesus, we must become disciples by sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to him. In our time, we can hardly invite Jesus over for dinner. But there are ways that Jesus is present to us if we take the time to be present to him.

Question for reflection: Am I more like Martha or Mary in my discipleship?

Copyright © 2016, Scott W. Eakins. All Rights Reserved.

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