Close and Listening: 16th Sunday OT

Our first reading is from Genesis and is about how Sarah and Abraham prepared food and waited on their guests, and how they were praised for their work of hospitality.

Our Gospel is from Luke and is about how Martha of Bethany prepared food and waited on her guests, and how she was rebuked for her work of hospitality.

So what’s that all about? I think Jesus’ answer to Martha tells us the difference. She’s burdened and anxious with her serving, and she hasn’t chosen the better part. Maybe you’ve had guests that you felt burdened and anxious serving. Can you think of a time like that? Or really, anything you’ve ever done for someone that felt like a burden and stressed you out. You probably tried not to show it. You probably said, “Oh, it’s nothing, I’m happy to do it!” But it wasn’t nothing, because you felt burdened. And you were willing to do it, but not honestly literally happy about it. You weren’t happy, you were stressed.

Now maybe you can think of another time you were taking care of someone, hosting, doing something for somebody, and you actually were happy about it; to be doing this task actually put a smile on your face. Why? Because of who you were doing it for. And maybe that’s the biggest difference between the two scenarios. In the burdened/stressed scenario, you’re focused on the task, the work, and the cost to you. In the joyful scenario, you’re focused on a person or persons you love, and the gift to them.

Mary of Bethany, Martha’s sister, chose to focus on the person over the chore, and she chose the better part. She chose the one needful thing. Sorry, Martha, but no way is that going to be taken from her.

We know the moral of the story isn’t that housework is bad and we should let garbage stink up the kitchen and ants invade and let our guests get thirsty and hungry because we refuse to look after them. No, it’s the burden and anxiety, the focus on the chores and the cost instead of the person and the gift, that’s the problem.

By Monday I’ll have had five different houseguests in eight days, and I’ll tell you it’s already been my best week in a long time. Lots of chores, I guess, but I’ve genuinely enjoyed the small effort because it’s all part of getting to spend time with people. That’s what poor Martha was missing.

This is a lesson for us in any work that we do. If it’s work worth doing, it’s work that somehow is helping someone. Even doing your own laundry can be an act of respect for others and a little contribution to making our common life pleasant, right? If it’s a chore done for others, so much the better. If you’re feeling burdened by what you have to do, it’s worth trying this: think about why you’re really doing it, and for whom. Think about why it’s worth doing, how it helps, even in the simplest way. And if you can think of nothing, nothing at all about this work that can make you see it as an act of love or offering or service, maybe it’s time to ask if it really needs to be done after all.

Let’s be honest, sometimes we just hate doing a particular task, and there’s no cute little mental trick that’s going to make us not hate doing it. Fair enough. But if we can make it an offering of love, that’s at least going to help.

This is helpful in terms of healthy attitudes and human relationships, and that’s great, but of course this is the Gospel and it’s about so much more than that. It’s about choosing the one needful thing: choosing above all and choosing over everything else to be close to Jesus and to listen to Him. Get that right, and all the other stuff you have to do will be taken care of as well. After all, it’s not like if you stay close to Jesus and listen to Him, He’s going to tell you to let your life fall apart and ignore your responsibilities, of course not! But with Him first, with Him at the center, everything else comes into focus. Take that away, and what is your life about? An endless series of tasks that you’ll keep doing as long as you can, until you can’t, or until you die, for what?

Or what if you could say, when it’s over, that it was all for Jesus? A lot of it would have been for other people you love, too, for sure, but all of it was for Jesus. Now that’s a life that makes sense. That’s a life that’s about something. Even the most ordinary parts… maybe especially the most ordinary parts.

St. Paul says something truly stunning in Colossians. We just heard it: “in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His body, which is the Church.” I call that a jaw dropper. “What is lacking in the afflictions of Christ?” How could anything be lacking in what Christ did for us? How could anything be added to it? Isn’t the whole point that Christ did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves, and that His sacrifice is absolutely sufficient? Then how can Paul say that he, a sinful mortal Christian disciple, is filling what’s lacking in Christ’s sacrifice?

Christ’s sacrifice was perfect and absolute. So what could possibly be missing? You. It’s an impoverishment of Christianity to imagine our salvation as just a matter of Jesus paying a price for us so we don’t go to Hell. I mean, that’s awesome, don’t get me wrong. But He wants so much more. He wants us to be His body. He wants us to be part of His offering to the Father. Yes, it starts with Him dying for us, but then: He asks us to live and die and rise with Him. Salvation isn’t just about not going to Hell. It’s about going to Heaven… and that means being part of Christ’s body, filled with His life, made a Saint by saying yes to His grace.

Here’s the thing: Christ did it for us, but He didn’t do it without us. He involved us from the start. His Incarnation began with an angel asking for Mary’s cooperation. She said yes. His ministry started by asking for the Apostle’s cooperation. They said yes. His life and work continue today, as Paul says, in His body the Church. That’s us. He’s asking for your cooperation. Will you say yes? Will you stay close to Him and listen to Him? Will you choose that over everything else, and make everything else in your life flow out of that relationship?

Are you burdened, anxious, pulled in a million directions and ready to lash out and ask Jesus why He doesn’t do something to help? Maybe it’s time you chose, or chose again, the one needful thing. Maybe you’ve lost track of it along the way. Stay close to Jesus and listen to Him. Whatever must be done, make it an offering to Him. Whatever you must go through, join it to His Cross. It’s meant to be that way; you are part of the Body of Christ, and the Body of Christ offered to the Father is what saves the world.

He died for you. Will you live for Him?


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