Homily for 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
When one compares Martha and Mary in today’s gospel, it is quite common to compare the active life to the contemplative life. Martha is too busy in her hyper-active mode while sweet, little, contemplative Mary was sitting around just receiving grace. It sounds very nice and neat. Is it possible that it is a little too simplistic?
Here’s the problem – it’s a false dichotomy between activity and non-activity. Based on this Gospel, someone might say that there is something wrong with an active life or that the contemplative life is better. However as we read in Matthew 25:31-46, in the end, Jesus will separate the active sheep from the inactive goats. The inactive ones do not fare very well. Those who worked to help the “least of the brothers and sisters” inherent the kingdom.
The issue with Martha isn’t the activity. There’s nothing wrong with the multitask. It’s where the multitask is focused. Saints have been extremely active in their lives. But they were doing it for the Lord. Everything that they were doing was focused on the Lord and his kingdom.
So here’s point number 1: what would “contemplative activity” look like? Imagine if Mary was working and the whole time that she was preparing the food and cooking and cleaning, she was doing it with the sense that this was being done for our Lord Jesus Christ – out of a sense of her love for him. That’s a whole different attitude than someone who is resentful because they are so focused on themselves, that they forget why it is, or more importantly, for whom it is, they are doing the job.
Now, let’s go deeper into this. What was it – deep inside Martha – that needed affirmation? Why was she totally self-absorbed, that she could not do what she was doing for the sake of the Lord?
Each of us has that Martha in us. It could be a sense of perfectionism, we’re workaholics, we lazy slugs and do nothing, we’re mean, we’re lustful, pick a commandment. There is at least one that is your greatest Achilles. It’s your “Martha moment” that keeps coming back.
Where’s that coming from?
- Part of it is our personal history. We’re damaged goods. We’ve been smacked out and beat up by others.
- We’ve made bad decisions in life. They have negative consequences.
- The world, events, situations beat us up. These have an effect on us.
- Lucifer is real. The first arrow out of his quiver is to simply rob you of your peace.
These are the effects of Original Sin in our world. But here’s the “Good News.” It’s about healing. Jesus not only wants to begin that healing, Jesus wants to go deeper to the root of the sin. Let me give you three Scripture passages:
- 1 Peter 2:24 – “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” That’s where it starts. It’s about the grace that comes from the Cross of Jesus Christ.
- Jeremiah 17:14 – “Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise.“ Here is our cry. Yet buried in that is still the fear that the healing might not happen. So we move on to the third passage:
- Isaiah 41:10 – “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Look, there is something there that the Lord wants to heal. There is something that is keeping you from truly being the best version of yourself.
Martha is the spyglass that points out the sin and the need for healing.
Mary is the compass that points to the savior.
Martha is the model of the very active life that will need to be engaged. This stuff rarely just goes away. Even if it does in a miraculous way, there is still plenty of follow-up homework that needs to be done – often for years.
Mary is the icon of the church that dispenses the sacraments of grace, the school of prayer and the instrument of that healing.