16 Sunday C - Mary and Martha - Homilies

Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration 

Welcome! Today we recall a small incident in the life of Jesus. Going along a road he came to a village and was welcomed into a house. There one sister, having to get the meal, complained that the other just sat and listened to Jesus; and Jesus says that this second sister, named Mary, ‘has chosen the better part and it is not to be taken from her’. This Mary is a model of discipleship for us. We are frequently busy with many things, but are we spending time listening to the voice of the Lord, are we reflecting on his wisdom, are we meditating on his goodness and wonder as we see it around us in the creation, are we recalling his gift of life, are we rejoicing in the presence of the Word made flesh? 
Gospel Notes 

This scene is found only in Luke, and is the story of one of a series of meals which are related in his gospel. Each shows the Christ with a different company, with a slightly different take on the nature of the welcome he receives from the householder and which he gives to those at table with him. For, while these meals always take place in another person’s house, it is clear that it is Jesus’s table: he is the host of the meal.

When this gospel was preached, the scene clues provided would have immediately made the audience recognise this as a meal of disciples and they would have read it eucharistically. This is not something that comes immediately to us for two reasons.

First, we have so developed the theological interpretation of the meal, that we fail to see the meal under the theology. Yet without the meal, there is nothing to be a sacrament of anything! 

Second, we make a radical distinction — even when we are trying to study the early church — between the meals of the community and ‘The Eucharist’. But this distinct item of practice, along with its name, did not emerge until the second century. However, we still read the gospels as if only the Last Supper (and possibly Emmaus) relate to the Eucharist; while all the other meals are just informal settings so that Jesus could preach. This distorts Luke. For him to be a Christian disciple was to belong to the community and its common practices at the core of which was the weekly gathering at table in continuity with the practice of Jesus. In this gathering, the medium was the message. So every meal story was a teaching about the importance of being at the meal with the Lord. 

It is from this perspective of the praxis of Luke’s audience that this text is interpreted in the homily notes. However, while the ‘message’ of this scene is tied up with the contrast between the actions of Martha and Mary, it should be noted that the traditional interpretation (going back to John Cassian) that it is the contrast between two ways of life, the active and the contemplative, is an imposition upon it from ‘spiritual’ interpretation. This is not a charter for a two-tier church, nor a plan for a pecking order between various religious orders in the church. The contrast concerns ways of behaving at the meal, and the reference to the ‘better share’ (meris) uses the exact same term used for the share (i.e. the broken parts of the loaf) each member of the community had in the Lord’s loaf.

Michel de Verteuil
General Textual Comments

Here is another very famous story which you must meditate on personally, letting yourself be guided by your feelings.

 The passage has given rise to deep and sometimes mystical interpretations, but at root it is a simple story of human relationships and your meditation must start there.

 You may like to focus on Jesus. See him as a model human being, receiving the hospitality of the sisters, accepting the love of Mary, teaching Martha wisdom, kindly but firmly.

 Though the Catholic tradition has tended to favour Mary over Martha, some have found that Martha was in fact the more mature of the two. Identify with whichever of the two you feel attracted to, letting the other one be a lesson by way of contrast.

 The key to the passage is the little phrase “the better part.” Your personal meditation will guide you in making your interpretation.

Sean Goan
Gospel Notes 

That the incident in the house of Martha and Mary should follow immediately after the parable of the Good Samaritan suggests a possible connection. One aspect of Christian living is highlighted in the parable by the words ‘go and do likewise’. Being a disciple is not about ideas, it is about action. However, the Martha and Mary story shows that sometimes the action can be misdirected and undertaken in a way that makes us lose sight of what really matters. We have to be careful here, because Jesus is not telling Martha that her work is not important, nor is he commending Mary for doing nothing. He is simply reminding his followers that if we want to serve him we must first listen to him — we need to be people of prayer before we can be people of action. Otherwise our actions can just be about us and it is possible to do good things for all kinds of bad reasons like,for example, our need to be needed or our exaggerated belief in the importance of our own contribution. Such behaviour can easily undermine the message of the good news which must always be about Jesus and his kingdom.
From The Connections:
The sisters Martha and Mary mirror the two expressions of the disciple’s call: loving service to others (Martha) and prayer and contemplation (Mary).  But as Martha comes to realize in today's Gospel, discipleship begins with hearing the Word of God, with opening our hearts and spirits to the presence of God.
We are all like Martha in our own anxiety over details; we worry about the peripherals at the expense of the important and lasting.  “The better part” embraced by Mary transcends the pragmatic and practical concerns of the everyday (that have overwhelmed poor Martha) and sees the hand of God in all things and realizes the gratitude all of creation owes its loving Creator for the gift of life.
With so many agendas demanding our time and attention, Jesus calls us to consciously choose and seek out “the better part”: to make a place in our lives for the joy and love of family and friends that is the presence of God.
It is a motto of Benedictine monasteries around the world:  “Let all be received here as would Christ” (The Rule of St. Benedict, chapter 53).  Like Abraham’s welcome of the three strangers (today’s first reading from Genesis 18) and the welcome Martha, Mary and Lazarus extend to Jesus in Bethany, hospitality is not only a holy responsibility but also a joyful opportunity to welcome and serve Jesus in the persons those who come to our tables.

Homily Notes  

1. The scene in the gospel could not be simpler – it appears. Jesus happens to be going down a road and meets a village and accepts hospitality, there is some talk, and then, for the gospel teller, he moves on getting ever closer to the ‘centre stage’ in Jerusalem. But the early Christians froze this mo­ment in their memories as something significant; and we have been recalling it ever since. Why? 

2. Somehow this encounter was, for Luke, a vignette capturing something essential about Jesus. It somehow gave in a ‘snap shot’ something that was true of all encounters with the risen Lord. But how can we grasp the essence of this story and see how it might – as part of the kerygma – characterise our en­counters with Jesus?

3. The place to start is with the common elements: a village, a house, a meal, sitting at table, discussion. This is one more of these meal events – particularly prominent in Luke – that re­mind us that Jesus was ‘a party animal’. The meetings with those who were his followers and those who would listen are often shown to take place around the dining table. This was not just’ a quick bite on the way from work’ – his gathering of people around him at meals was at the very heart of the Lord’s work. To learn about Jesus and to be with him is to eat with him; and his meals model the perfect new community and offer a taste of the welcome of the Father in the final ban­quet.

4. We think of communities as ‘cities’ and churches as ‘parishes’ with hundreds of people. We usually think of our gatherings not being in a house – the ‘House Mass’ or ‘Station Mass’ is an increasingly rare phenomenon – but in special formal buildings called’ churches’ and then they are often built to fit hundreds. We tend to think of ‘getting Mass’, not of ‘sitting around the Lord’s table.’ And, we may see the table when we gather but we call it an’ altar’. Gathering for any meal around a table where we talk may be something done only rarely as we eat’ fast food’ or food off trays in front of a screen. So our gatherings do not immediately remind us of the meal in Martha’s house; and reading of that meal seems very distinct from sitting here on Sunday. Two factors create the separ­ation: the first is sheer scale – we think of large groups and many such gatherings each Sunday; and second we use a lan­guage and a formality that obscures some of the basic shape of our encounter with the Lord at his supper 

5. We should recall that for most of our history Christians have lived and worshipped in very small villages. In an ancient city like Corinth the Christians would have had a village-like existence and met in groups of 50 at most, and so would have had a real meal experience. This is what Luke knows and ex­periences and what his audience knows and experiences. To meet for the meal/the Eucharist is the central act of the disci­pIes’ week as Christians. There they gather to be participants in the presence of the Lord as their welcoming host. There they share his food and his life and listen to his words. There the key is to be focused on the Lord – Mary – rather than focused on the mechanics of the meeting and the meal ­Martha. 

6.The gospel today reminds us that the Word has become flesh, and he sits among us. He shares his table with us – the most basic human experience of welcome and sharing. Weare dis­ciples and sit with him and listen and learn from him so that we can grow to be fully-trained disciples. 

7. Luke’s message today could be summed up as: To know Jesus is to eat with him.

8. There is always a surprise at Jesus’s meals: have you noticed this is a house that is owned by a woman? This is most un­usual in the ancient world. Have you noticed that Jesus ac­cepts women as full table companions – they can sit with him and talk with him? Again, not something that was at all usual in the ancient world. But Jesus broke down all the barriers to welcome at his table for that welcome was intended to show the welcome of the Father at the heavenly table. 


1.     ACP

A House of Hospitality 

How I wish that someone would unearth a whole volume of Martha/Mary/Lazarus stories of which this one and the raising of Lazarus in St. John’s Gospel are the only ones we have. But even these two stories enable us to see Jesus in a family context, in domestic scenes, with people that he loved and loved him. The parents of the three presumably were dead because we hear nothing about them. They are also likely to be in their early or middle teens because they are not married. The two women were clearly in love with Jesus and he treated them with respect and affection. Were they people who actually existed? It would be hard to doubt it, since the stories presume that those who read the Gospels know all about them. Jesus is not saying that one should not wait on guests. He is rather saying that more important than waiting on them is enjoying them and loving them. We should never be so busy that we have no time for love. 

Our Irish tradition laid great store by hospitality, a practice somewhat harder to keep up in a busy urban setting, but one that we would do well to keep alive, and even revive to a higher level. We are more likely to encounter the grace of God when welcoming visitors to our home, than just by sitting watching television!

Listening whole-heartedly to Him 

“What is man that you care for him,” the Psalmist asks God to explain (Ps 4:8), “or mortal man that you keep him in mind?” It has been said that when it comes to discovering the meaning of human life and of our existence in this world, most of us are like pygmies, who travel on the backs of the giants who have gone before us. In other words the number of people who were able to stand back, as it were, and try to see human striving, endeavour, hardship, in meaningful terms, is small indeed. The majority of us are willing to go along in varying degrees with their discoveries, as they filter down to us through different channels. 

God’s Message, the theme running through today’s readings, comes to us in more or less the same way. Some chosen individuals seem able to grasp in a wonderful way God’s message for the human race, and have shared that knowledge with the rest of us. So the Word of God came to Abraham, not as something abstract, needing to be found in books; for  there were no books then, but rather a tradition of faith handed on orally and finally committed to scrolls. Abraham’s encounter with God was on a personal plane. He was the friend of God, the Bible says, and his welcome for the Messengers of God has all the merits of eastern nomadic hospitality. 

Abraham is a supreme example of deep-rooted faith and trust in God. Called by God to leave his own clan, he left off worshipping their gods and set out for an unknown destination. In return God promised he would become the father of a new and numerous people. Abraham trusted and followed this call, even when there seemed little hope that this promise would ever be fulfilled. When they had practically given up hope, he again hears that his wife will bear a son, and again he trusts in God’s word. And later still, when Isaac was born  Abraham  was asked to sacrifice this precious son. It he carried out this grim command, how could the promise of God evercome true? But Abraham’s trust in God never wavered, and in the end was vindicated. It was for this faith that Abraham was justified in God’s sight, and this faith was passed on to his children and to all believers, including ourselves. 

As we saw in the gospel, God’s Message came in person to Mary, the sister of Martha, and we see her vibrant relationship with God in Christ. On one level, we feel sorry for Martha, being left to do the household work on her own, but the key value here is that our listening to God, our attentiveness to Christ must never be drowned out by the bustle of our everyday lives. Then, in the reading from St Paul we are told how the Word of God, hidden from all mankind for centuries, comes to the gentiles.

Only one thing really matters in the hurly-burly of our modem world, that we always make space for God in our lives, that we reach out and grasp the message which God is continually presenting to us, that we make it our own, and that we allow it to guide and shape us, as we live and as we hope to die, in fulfilment of God’s wishes for us.

Choosing the Better Part 

It is hard not to feel sympathy for Martha. It was her house after all, not Mary’s, and she would naturally want to show it at its best. The trouble with her – as with over-anxious people in general – was that she could view things only from her own angle and became annoyed when others wished to follow a different course. She does not see is that to be a good host, we have to forget ourselves and focus on what our visitor wants from us.

Martha loved Jesus as much as Mary did, and it is clear that he treasured them both. Her mistake was in not trying to find out how Jesus wanted to be entertained, while visiting her house. Her sister correctly senses that when Jesus comes on a visit the last thing he wants is to have people fussing over how to feed him. So, while Martha makes the greater housekeeping effort, Mary understands better what is expected of her by him. Her contemplative intuition grasps instinctively the real reason for Jesus’ visit. He is there not to receive but to give, not to be served but to serve. He has something he needs to say and the one thing necessary is to listen to his voice.

We have here a whole theology of contemplation, of how to receive the Lord’s visit. It starts off from the basis that, no matter who our visitors may be, there is always something to be learned, something to be gained from them. The one who comes knocking on our door will have something to tell us, should be listened to and understood. After a demanding and frustrating confrontation with today’s scribes and Pharisees, Jesus comes to visit his friends, in an atmosphere of ease. He comes to talk to us in the quiet of the evening or the freshness of the morning, to share with us the Word that brings us to salvation. He comes not because he needs us but because we need him. We too can be “distracted with all the serving;” we too can “worry and fret about so many things.” We may, like Martha, miss the better part, the one thing necessary, which is to submit to the Word of Christ. 

The world is made up of Martha’s and Mary’s – the doers and the dreamers – and it would seem the former are far more numerous than the latter. The industrial and commercial society of today places a huge premium on achievement. It is results that count. Targets are set for production and sales and only those who achieve or surpass them are rewarded. Captains of industry everywhere are pushing hard to have pay related to production. Their message is “shape up or ship out.” And those who can’t or won’t are made redundant. We live in Martha’s world.

It is ironic that Christ’s followers so seldom show his marked preference for the Marys of this world. They toiled away in their garrets, often in poverty, elaborating their dreams and bringing to birth a better world for future generations. Mercifully, we still have our dreamers. The message of today’s gospel is that we, like our Master, should cherish such dreamers. It is the poets and prophets, writers and thinkers, philosophers and mystics, who like Mary, have chosen the better part.

Lord of All Pots and Pans!

(Attributed to Nicholas Herman alias Bro. Lawrence, cook in the monastery)

Lord of all pots and pans and things,
Since I’ve no time to be
A saint by doing holy things,
Or contemplating thee,
By praying in the dawn-light,
Or storming heaven’s gates,
Make me a saint by getting meals,
And washing up the plates.
Although I must have Martha's hands,
I have Mary's mind, and,
When I black the boots and shoes
Thy sandals, Lord, I find.
I think of how they trod the earth

What time I scrub the floor,
Accept this meditation, Lord,
I haven't time for more.
Warm all the kitchen with thy love,
And light it with thy peace,
Forgive me all my worrying
And make all grumbling cease.

Thou who didst love to give men food
In room or by the sea
Accept this service that I do
I do it unto thee.

Scripture Reflections

Lord, many people misunderstand hospitality.
 They worry and fret about preparing plenty of food and decorating the house.
 But few things are needed to make people feel at home,
 indeed only one, which is to sit with our guests and listen to them speaking.
Lord, we pray for parents today.
 Let them not fall into the error of worrying and fretting
 about doing many things for their children,
 then complaining that no one is helping them.
 Remind them that the only essential thing
 is to sit down at the feet of their children and listen to them.

Lord, so often we keep busy, complaining about all we have to do,
 and that our brothers and sisters are leaving us to do all the work by ourselves.
 We  even ask you to tell them to help us.
 We thank you for that day when you sent someone to speak to us
 - a sermon in church,
 - one of our children told us we were insincere,
 - we found ourselves committing a sin.

 We felt hurt and angry
 But now we realize that it was Jesus speaking to us as he spoke to Martha,
 showing us that we really were running away
 from the one thing we needed more than any other,
 to spend more time at prayer,
 to sit at your feet and listen as you show us the truth about ourselves.

“The creator, the source of all, is in the heart of each one of us.” The Upanishads

 Lord, there is a Martha and a Mary within each of us
 - a part of ourselves which is active and busy,
 - another part which sits at your feet and listens trustingly to your word.

 We need our active self to accomplish your will,
 but the listening self is the best part,
 and we must not allow it to be taken from us.
Lord, we thank you for listening communities,
 -Bible sharing groups;
 - alcoholics anonymous;
 - Montessori schools.
 What marks them out from others is simplicity.

 Those responsible know that few things are needed to make a community,
 and the one thing that must not be taken away
 is listening to every member of the group as if sitting at the Lord’s feet.

“The West Indian people have not waited on governments; they have integrated in their own informal but highly effective way.”  Report of the West Indian Commission, June 1992

 Lord, we pray for our leaders.
 They worry and fret about many things, and even complain
 that the people leave them to do the serving all by themselves,
 when in fact they are neglecting the one thing that is needed most of all,
 which is to sit at the feet of their people and listen to them.


1.     Mommy’s Dinner: 

Once upon a time a mommy had such a wonderful time on her vacation that she decided that on the last weekend she would have a party for the neighbors at their summer place in gratitude for what good friends they had been. She hoped that she could do that every summer. Let’s have pizza her kids said –as kids always say. We can grill some hamburgers, her husband said, that’s easy (which is what he always said). No, said the mommy, we should have a really NICE dinner (which is what she always said).  

The rest of the family groaned to themselves because they knew what that meant – a whole day of hard work for everyone during which the mommy would act like it wasn’t her idea but theirs and now they weren’t helping enough. The rest of the family thought that beef bourgeon was a little much for a summer dinner. There was no reason to clean up the house like it was just before Christmas. If they had to have Caesar salad, couldn’t you make it out of a bag. Was it really necessary to bake potatoes? Wouldn’t potato salad be just as good? Couldn’t you buy the apple pies at the bakery instead of making a half dozen of them? And what was wrong with package pie crust?  

 Well, the party was a feast which everyone enjoyed. They would have enjoyed it a lot more, however, if the mommy wasn’t so worn out that she didn’t have any fun. (Andrew Greeley)
2.     Hospitality:  

Hospitality is the way we come out of ourselves. It is the first step toward dismantling the barriers of the world. Hospitality is the way we turn a prejudiced world around, one heart at a time.” (Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister)
-Working for God & doing God’s work (Thomas Green, sj)
-Don’t fit God into your schedule, but fit yourself into God’s plans for you.
Jesus did not intend to belittle Martha and her activity, but rather to show that hearing the word of God is the foundation of all action, that the word of God must permeate all other concerns. The highest priority must be given to listening to the word. Prayer and actions must be continuous, complementary and mutually dependent. Prayer without action is sterile, and action without prayer is empty. We are expected to be "contemplative in action" because only those who listen carefully to the Word of God know how to behave in the way that God wants, when they show deep concern for the well-being of other people. That is why Jesus reminds Martha that proper service for him is attention to his instruction, not an elaborate provision for his physical needs.

Without the “fuel” of prayer, silence and communion with God, service can become a crushing responsibility, a burden rather than a vocation, an annoyed grumbling, rather than a response to the invitation of God. It is a well-known fact that those who are in the caring professions like doctors, nurses, pastors, social workers and even parents often suffer from burnout and terminal exhaustion as Martha did.

Serve the Lord with Martha’s diligence: Some of mankind's greatest contributions have come from people who decided that no sacrifice was too large and no effort too great to accomplish what they set out to do. Edward Gibbon spent 26 years writing The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Noah Webster worked diligently for 36 years to bring into print the first edition of his Webster’s Dictionary. It is said that the Roman orator Cicero practiced before friends every day for 30 years in order to perfect his public speaking. Most of the famous scientists sacrificed their whole lives on their research for the betterment of human lives. Now let's think about how much energy we put into the Lord's work in an age when people are self-serving, self-centered, and self-indulgent. The comparison can be rather embarrassing.

3.     We need listening Marthas and serving Marys:

Martha has become a symbol of action-oriented, responsible people who get the job done. Our world needs such men and women and boys and girls who get the job done. This is certainly true in the church. How would the Church survive if not for the Marthas and Bills who sing in the choir, run the altar guild, work with the homeless, work with the youth, and build the Church? The Church could not exist without the Marthas and Bills, the women and men who are responsible and do the work. The same is true with the family. We need responsible people to do the work in the house: to cook, to clean, to keep the house operating, to pay the bills, to keep the cars running, not to speak of rearing the children and loving the spouse. Households can’t survive without Marthas and Bills. Nor can offices, schools or businesses. There is nothing wrong with being a responsible, action-oriented, get-it-done kind of person. But we must find time to listen to God speaking to us through His word and time to talk to God. Jesus clearly said: be hearers and doers of the word. Jesus never reversed that order. 

4.     The Archbishop of Canterbury with Mental Hospital Inmates

Some years ago, The Archbishop of Canterbury was rushing to catch a train in London. In his haste, he accidentally jumped on the wrong passenger car and found himself on a car full of inmates from a mental hospital. They were all dressed in mental hospital clothing. 

Just as the train pulled out of the station, an orderly came in and began to count the inmates, "1-2-3-4..." when suddenly he saw this distinguished looking gentleman there wearing a business suit and a clerical collar and he said: 

"Who are you?" The answer came back: "I am the Archbishop of Canterbury!" And the orderly said: "5-6-7-8."

The point of that story is this: It is so important to know who we are and who other people are. If we know what makes us tick and what makes other people tick, we get along better. If we understand where we are coming from and where other people are coming from, we relate better. There is more compassion, more empathy and more kindness. When Jesus looked at Martha that day in that emotional scene, he saw some red flags, some warning signals, some danger signs, some destructive attitudes within her which were more harmful to Martha herself than to anyone else. Jesus loved Martha. They were good friends and that day, he saw in her some hurtful attitudes that were working in her like spiritual poisons, petty attitudes, which can devastate and destroy the soul. 

Let's look at these dangerous attitudes which were in Martha. We may find ourselves or someone we know somewhere between the lines. When Jesus looked at Martha that day, he saw deep down inside of her the dangerous attitude. 

1. Resentment
2. Narrowness
3. Unkindness
5.     A Gazelle and a Cheetah 

On 10 July 2013 someone posted a YouTube video. Three days later it had 5 million hits.  

The one minute clip shows an amazing life-or-death race. It was shot by some Krueger Park tourists on safari in South Africa. Routinely and sternly, visitors to the park are told to stay in their vehicles at all times. But tourists being tourists, you know the rest of the story. The video shows cars parked along the access road with all their windows and doors wide open, and people hanging out every which way in order to get a better view. 

In this case what everyone was gawking at was a herd of gazelles being chased down by two amazingly speedy cheetahs. Suddenly the whole chase changed course and headed into the roadway. Predator and prey came racing through the line-up of parked cars, then disappeared into the trees on the other side of the road. Moments later one gazelle doubled back - again, running towards the road - with the cheetah pair in hot pursuit.  

Feeling the hot breath of death on its heels, the terrified gazelle made an incredible choice. It hurled itself INTO a Toyota minivan whose side door had been slid open. The confused cheetahs ran on past, looking around for the prey that had been so close only moments before. As the disappointed cheetahs ran off, the owners of the "get-away car" opened the other sliding door and the gazelle did an "exit-stage-left" back out into the wilderness.  

And we think we live with stress!  

"Stress" is one of the greatest contributors to a host of diseases and debilitating maladies suffered by people living in our rapidly rotating world.
6.     Don't Forget the Best  

There is an ancient Scottish legend that tells the story of a shepherd boy tending a few straggling sheep on the side of a mountain. One day as he cared for his sheep he saw at his feet a beautiful flower -- one that was more beautiful than any he had ever seen in his life. He knelt down upon his knees and scooped the flower in his hands and held it close to his eyes, drinking in its beauty. As he held the flower close to his face, suddenly he heard a noise and looked up before him. 

There he saw a great stone mountain opening up right before his eyes. And as the sun began to shine on the inside of the mountain, he saw the sprinkling of the beautiful gems and precious metals that it contained.  

With the flower in his hands, he walked inside. Laying the flower down, he began to gather all the gold and silver and precious gems in his arms. Finally with all that his arms could carry, he turned and began to walk out of that great cavern, and suddenly a voice said to him, "Don't forget the best."  

Thinking that perhaps he had overlooked some choice piece of treasure, he turned around again and picked up additional pieces of priceless treasure. And with his arms literally overflowing with wealth, he turned to walk back out of the great mountainous vault. And again the voice said, "Don't forget the best."  

But by this time his arms were filled and he walked on outside, and all of a sudden, the precious metals and stones turned to dust. And he looked around in time to see the great stone mountain closing its doors again. A third time he heard the voice, and this time the voice said, "You forgot the best. For the beautiful flower is the key to the vault of the mountain." 

In our Scripture passage we have someone who also forgot the best. Her name was Martha. 

Adrian Dieleman, Hosts and Guests
7.     Will the Grass Ever Come Back?   

Erma Bombeck, the author who wrote "If Life Is A Bowl Of Cherries, What Am I Doing Here In The Pits", tells of two moments in her husband's life: 

There was a time when the children were growing up that her husband used to go and look at the back yard. Surveying the muddy patches where the lawn should be, he would wonder -- Will the grass ever come back? 

And then there was the time when the children were grown and gone that her husband went and looked over the beautiful green lawn, immaculate from lack of use and wondered -- Will the children ever come back? 

Some parts of life are temporary - some are eternal. Wisdom knows the difference. This is the fundamental issue at stake in the story of Mary and Martha.

Richard J. Fairchild, The Better Part
8.     Responding with Humor  

By the way, don't you think Luke also included this incident in his gospel account because he found it irresistible, or perhaps more accurately, because he found a touch of humor in it? There is humor here, isn't there? We smile at the story because we see ourselves in it, or we detect someone we know who is similar to Martha. Sometimes our priorities, or frustrations, are so far off the beam that they are laughable. And along with this was Martha's own lack of humor, which might have finally saved her. "The Lord's coming to my house? You mean he did accept my reckless invitation?" Martha might have asked. "Well, then, he's going to have to settle for potluck!" Such an attitude could have made Martha a relaxed, delightful hostess.  

A friend of mine likes to tell stories about how his teenage children would call him at home on the telephone on Friday nights after the high school basketball games. It was usually about 10 o'clock and they wanted to know whether they could bring a few friends over for a little get together. When the parents asked how many friends were coming, they were usually told, "Oh, about seventeen." Instead of slamming down the phone, the guy said he always smiled at his wife, and the two of them hightailed it over to the supermarket to get enough supplies to feed and water down the two dozen teenagers who showed up. The slight ridiculousness of the situation and the parents' humorous response to it preserved a loving relationship between them and their children. 

Richard W. Patt, All Stirred Up, CSS Publishing Company, Inc.
9.     Being Present   

How many of us have been to a party where our host or hosts are so busy with all of the little details that the guests leave the party thinking, "That was a lovely party, but I wish I had more time to speak with our host!" I imagine this Martha from over 2,000 years ago to have something in common with a certain 'Martha' from our present. Fussing over the perfect table setting, the most delicious and perhaps elaborate meal, adjusting every little detail until it is just so...and only when everything is perfectly in place, turning to the guests to enjoy their company. There is a lot of joy to be taken in being a host and doing something gracious your guests, but it should never compromise the time we have to really enjoy our contact with them, especially when it starts to feel like 'work' as Martha clearly expresses. 

I think that one of the things Jesus is praising in Mary's behavior in this text is her careful listening and just being present with her guest and her God. Jesus is telling us that there is great wisdom in letting the dishes soak in the sink so we can listen to and relax with others in fellowship.  

10.  The Highest Priority  

Have you ever been in a hurry and buttoned up a long overcoat with lots of buttons and when you were done, found out that the coat was uneven? What went wrong? I'll tell you what went wrong. When you don't get the first button in the right hole, all the rest are out of sequence too, right?! That's a parable about life. Jesus said it this way in the Sermon on the Mount: "Seek first God's kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well." (Matthew 6:33) If the Lord is not the high priority in your life, then, like the overcoat, so many other things in life will be out of whack as well.  

Arthur E. Dean Windhorn
11.  Faithful to my Lord's commands 

I still would choose the better part;
Serve with careful Martha's hands
And loving Mary's heart.  

Charles Wesley
12.  ABC Priorities  

A time management guru, a professor in the business school at Harvard, speaks about A, B, and C priorities, and then he notes that too many people spend too much of their time on the C priorities! And then he asks, "Why do you think that is?" The answer is that the C priorities are, first, much easier to accomplish, and, second, give you the impression that you are actually getting something done. In other words you can keep busy with the C priorities all day and never get to the more important things. The lesson from Mary and Martha is "Don't let the good (the C priorities) get in the way of the best (the A priorities). Sound like anyone you know?

David E. Leininger
13.  There Is Always a Load Limit  

Dr. John Anderson tells about a cartoon that appeared in the NEW YORKER magazine. Approaching a small bridge plainly marked, "Load Limit 8 tons" was a truck, also marked on its side, "8 tons." When the 8 ton truck was about in the middle of the bridge with the 8 ton limit, a bluebird lighted on the top girder. At that point the bridge gave way and crashed with the truck into the river below, to the obvious surprise of the bluebird.  

The bridge was built as indicated for 8 tons; the truck weighed exactly that. The bridge could hold up under its load limit, but not under 8 tons and one bluebird.

Of course, this story is wonderfully ridiculous. Most bridges could stand up under their load limit and several thousand bluebirds extra. But, to be sure, all bridges have a breaking point somewhere "that point at which the bluebird would be just much too much. But, friends, it really isn't the bluebird that breaks it down. It is the fact that 8 tons are already present.  

We all have bluebird troubles, don't we? We are all burdened by the facts of our lives which load us to the point of "load limit." We let little things get the best of us, little bluebirds of nothingness, tiny bluebirds of no importance, but just the thing to bring us down. Every person has a limit and we would do well to watch for the warning signs of one bluebird too many. There is always a load limit.  

Arthur E. Dean Windhorn,
14.  Worry  

Worry has been defined as "a small trickle of fear that meanders through the mind until it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained." 

15.  Humor: When Anxieties Finally Come True  

For several years a woman had been having trouble getting to sleep at night because she feared burglars. One night her husband heard a noise in the house, so he went downstairs to investigate. When he got there, he did find a burglar. "Good evening," said the man of the house. "I am pleased to see you. Come upstairs and meet my wife. She has been waiting 10 years to meet you."

 William Marshall, Eternity Shut in a Span
16.  Inviting Us Out to Worship  

There is a chapel somewhere in Wisconsin that has a stained glass window over the entrance, showing the figure of Jesus with open arms. Some, seeing it for the first time, remarked, "How meaningful! He seems to be inviting us in to worship."

"That's true," the pastor said. "He is indeed inviting us in to worship."

When the service was over and the same person was going out the door, he looked up at the window again. There was the figure of Jesus, with the same invitingly open arms. "Look!" he said. "Now he seems to be inviting us out."

"Right," the pastor replied.
17. ‘A simple human thing’:
A psychologist ran every morning in a park near her home before going to her office.  She often met a colleague there, a well-known psychiatrist.  Without any formal arrangement, they had run together every morning for many years.  But after she was diagnosed with cancer, somehow her running companion was never there.  A strong and determined woman, she continued to run, despite a difficult course of surgery and chemotherapy.  After a few months of running alone, she called the psychiatrist, but he never returned the call.
About a year after the completion of her treatment, she took a different path on her run one morning and saw the psychiatrist running up ahead.  Being twenty years younger, she caught up with him easily.  As they ran side by side, she told her one-time running companion that she was hurt by his not calling back.  Everyone in their small professional community knew about her cancer.  Surely he had heard.
The psychiatrist replied, “I’m sorry.  I simply did not know what to say.”
What would she have wanted to hear?
“Oh, something like, ‘I heard it’s been a hard year.  How are you doing?’  Some simple human thing like that.”
[From Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.]

Too often, we hide behind our credentials, our expertise, our work, our designated role or function in order to avoid the awkwardness of simply being human.  Like the psychiatrist in the story, we can be experts in the science of hurt but find ourselves too afraid to extend the simplest form of healing; like Martha in the Gospel, we bury ourselves in our work and agendas and calendars to avoid loving and being loved by our “guests.”  Jesus invites each one of us to make a place in our lives for the “better part” — for welcoming the joy and love of family and friends that is the very presence of God.

From Fr. Tony Kadavil's Collection:

1. "I would like to be married to both of them": 
Some single men in a Bible study group were discussing who would make the better wife--Martha or Mary. One fellow said, "Well, I think Martha would make the better wife. The way to a man's heart is through his stomach. It sounds like Martha surely knew how to cook. I would love to be married to a woman like that!" Another man said, "I think Mary would make the better wife. She was always so thoughtful, sweet and loving. I could be very happy, married to a woman like Mary!" Finally, another fellow settled the argument when he said, "Well, I would like to be married to both of them. I would like Martha before supper and Mary after supper." Today’s gospel challenges us to combine the listening spirit of Mary with the dynamic spirit of Martha in our Christian lives.

2.  "She can sit all evening at the feet of a friend and not say anything.”
The headline on the cover of Sports Illustrated some time back read: "Sportswoman of the Year." One of the pictures on the cover showed Mary Decker pressing the tape as she defeated, by inches, the Soviet champion, Zamira Zaitseva, in the 1500-meter world championship race. The article went on to describe Decker's phenomenal performances in San Diego, Los Angeles, Gateshead (England), Stockholm, Paris, and Oslo. One comment was made about Mary Decker by the writer of the article that is relevant to our discussion today. He wrote, "She can sit all evening at the feet of a friend and not say anything, just smile and let the talk wash over her."[Kenny Moore, "She Runs and We Are Lifted," Sports Illustrated (December 26, 1983), p. 38.] Today’s gospel tells us about another Mary, Mary of Bethany, who did the same thing when Jesus made his last visit to her home.
3. Set your priorities:

There is a story about a man who was preparing his favorite breakfast of hot oatmeal when his daughter came rushing in with his little four-year-old grandson. "The babysitter has been delayed," she explained, "and I've got to go to work. Will you keep Bobby for a few hours?" Granddad said, "Sure," and his daughter left. Then Granddad scooped up two bowls of oatmeal. "Do you like sugar?" he asked. When Bobby nodded he asked, "How about some butter, too?" When his grandson nodded again he asked, "How about milk?" "Sure," the boy said. But when the grandfather placed the steaming bowl of oatmeal in front of Bobby, the boy made a face and pushed it away. "But when I asked you, you said you liked sugar, butter and milk," grandfather protested. "Yeah," Bobby answered, "but you didn't ask me if I like oatmeal." Granddad forgot to ask the most elemental question. Sometimes we forget to do that, too. We never set priorities. We never list in our own minds what those things are that matter most. We allow life to buffet us here and there and we never center in on those things that really matter.