Reflection: Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Chinese Mass:Every Sunday 2:15 p.m

Our Lady of the Assumption RC Church, Assumption Priory, Victoria Park Square, Bethnal Green E2 9PB (map)

Mass is conducted in a mix of Cantonese and Mandarin

After Mass you are welcome to join the community for a tea gathering


[1st Reading – Gen.18:1-10; Ps.14; 2nd Reading – Col.1:24-28; Gospel – Lk.10:38-42]

Although we know Martha and Mary (and also their brother Lazarus) in another context in other parts of the gospel, the Church today is presenting us only with the two sisters, in the familiarity of their family home, in a slightly different situation.

Jesus came to their village and Martha welcomed him into her house … Interestingly, nothing is said of their brother Lazarus and we are told that the house is Martha’s (and not her brother’s!).

It seems that there must have been ‘other’ people in the house as well because while Jesus was speaking, Mary sat down at Jesus’ feet listening to him!  If Jesus was speaking only to Mary, Martha would not have had commented the way she did about her sister.  Also Martha would not have been distracted with ‘all the serving’ if it was just them with Jesus.  But the gospel writer kept silent about the other people in the scene at Martha’s house and in doing so concentrated only on what is going on between the three of them: Jesus, Martha and Mary.

We are told that Martha welcomed Jesus into her house.  It was always a privilege to welcome Jesus into ones’ house because great things seem to happen to those who welcomed him into their house. Today’s gospel is no exception.  As was expected of any Jewish woman, Martha started serving the guests.  Mary was there too, but instead of serving, she stayed at Jesus’ feet listening to him.  Culturally, even if the woman was of a tender age, she was not supposed to sit with the men, but was expected to give a hand in serving, especially if she was part of the hosting family.  Yet Mary went against what is expected of her and instead she sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to his teaching!

This must have given way to some kind of disappointment.  Martha was clearly annoyed that she was rushed off her feet, serving all these guests on her own and her sister clearly not helping or even offering to help. She was trying to make her sister help in the serving, but obviously she could not.  Therefore she asked Jesus to intervene, and in a polite way she asked Jesus to tell Mary to help her.  Jesus did intervene, but as usual not in the way that one expected: instead of telling Mary to help her sister (as Martha was asking and expecting), he showed Martha that ‘he cares’ … especially for those who ‘listen’ to him!

Yes, Martha was distracted: predominantly by the serving, but she was also distracted and distressed by the fact that she was left alone to do all the serving with no help from her sister.  Furthermore because of all this going on, she was unable to pay any attention to Jesus’ words.

If we take Jesus’ response at face value, it was not helpful at all to Martha (from Martha’s point of view).  Jesus did not ask Mary to help her sister, but instead he told Martha that Mary has chosen the better part … which will not be taken from her.  Now, Jesus did not tell Martha that she was doing something wrong in serving her guests.  Not at all!  Yet what she was doing at that particular moment and in that particular situation was something that was not right: i.e. she was “worrying and fretting about so many things”, distracting herself from what was needed.  And Jesus continues by saying that only a few things are needed and specifies that only one of these is needed … and Mary is the person who has chosen it: i.e. by being at Jesus’ feet, listening to what he has to say.

Sometimes, in our daily life, we find ourselves doing the same as Martha.  Our mind is so dispersed in many ‘important’ things and chores that need to be taken care of, that we do not find time to sit at the foot of the Lord and listen to what he has to say!  Let us therefore ask God to help us learn to make ‘better’ choices in our life and to make time in our life for him.

“Lord, like Martha and Mary, we welcome you into our house, and at the same time we ask you to help us learn to listen and to pay attention to what you have to say.  Thank you Lord!”

Fr. Jesmond Pawley, OFM Conv.

(Permission to reproduce on this site by Fr. Jesmond, St. Patrick’s RC Church, Waterloo )

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