Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Bolton

Stay with us, Lord, on our journey

Cycle C

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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 Luke 10:38-42

"It is Mary who has chosen the better part"

In what way is Mary's course of action 'better' than that of Martha? Look afresh at the story and pay attention to the ordinary human dimension of this account of hospitality. Martha was in no way lacking in generosity but might it be that, on this occasion at least, she had missed the 'mood', and so the real need, of her guest? Could the 'better part' be that Mary was sensitive to Jesus' human need at this moment, not for food and fuss, but for quiet companionship? By sitting at his feet and listening to him, she showed an empathy that was lacking in Martha on this occasion.

Jesus warns Martha (and us?) “you worry and fret about so many things” when in reality “few are needed, indeed only one”. What is the one thing that really matters? At the end of their days, people do not usually lament that their house-work was occasionally below standard, or that they did not put in as much overtime at work as they might, or that there was some possession that had eluded them. If they do look back with sorrow, it tends to be on account of the missed opportunities to give real time and attention to those they love. Might it be that Jesus is warning us against those “if only …” causes of regret?

At another level we may note that Mary is listening to the word of the Lord while Martha has no time to listen; rather she would have Mary join her and leave the Lord with no one to speak to! To be a disciple is first of all to be a listener. Like Martha we may “worry and fret about so many things” that we do not really attend as we ought to the Word of God. If we find ourselves in sympathy with Martha it might just be a warning about our own lived priorities.