Jesus and his disciples continue their journey to Jerusalem.
Along the way we meet various groups of people: the crowds, who are
drawn by their own desperate needs, or are curious about the
spectacle; the "teachers of the law," who are growing more and more
hostile; Jesus’ disciples, enthusiastic but confused because of
Jesus’ talk of his coming passion. Just prior to today’s Martha and
Mary story, in last Sunday’s reading, a lawyer "tested" Jesus
asking, "Who is my "neighbor." Jesus responded with the parable of
the Good Samaritan. Have Jesus’ followers and antagonists really
been listening to what he has been saying? Have we? Today we have a
story of someone who shows respect for Jesus and sets an example for
us by listening to his word.
The Martha and Mary account is only in Luke and so we would
expect to find in it and the surrounding ones, typical Lucan
touches. For example, typical of Luke, it features women ministering
and listening to Jesus. Also, the story is situated between action
and prayer: the preceding story of the Good Samaritan encapsulates
the ideal of Christian love and service; while following the Martha
and Mary account Jesus gives his teaching about prayer. Are we
listening to the accumulated message of these narratives? Does it
take prayer to help us discern and follow through on our call to
serve others in need? Will prayer help us recognize the needy so
that we not "walk on by on the other side," as the religious leaders
did to the man who had been set upon by bandits? The stories of the
Good Samaritan, Mary and Martha and the teaching on prayer are
intimately related – they are of a piece.
What a relief it must have been for Jesus to be "welcomed" by
Martha. This is Martha’s only appearance in Luke. Martha’s sister
Mary is also in the story and she sits at Jesus’ feet to hear him
speak – literally, to "listen to his word." To sit at someone’s feet
was to acknowledge his or her authority. Thus, Mary treats Jesus as
one sent with an authoritative word, a prophet. Martha is often
described as "the heavy" in this story – the one who is fretting and
bossy. But initially, at least, she is the hospitable one who
welcomes Jesus and tries to do much to follow-up on her hospitality.
Since Jesus is journeying to Jerusalem with his disciples, I wonder
if they weren’t close by. If so, Martha had much to do and could be
overwhelmed with work and so feel abandoned by her sister.
Jesus tells Martha that she is "anxious and worried" about many
things. Luke Timothy Johnson (SACRA PAGINA, page 174, cf. below)
says that in the original these terms suggest: being "anxious" about
the entanglements of life in the world and "making an uproar."
Johnson goes on to say that Jesus’ response, "There is a need for
only one thing," has been variously interpreted. Some say Jesus is
suggesting she could have served fewer dishes, just "one," or a
"few." But Johnson thinks Jesus is responding to the virtue of
hospitality, that is, the importance of paying attention to the
guest. That’s what’s important. Everything else is secondary. So,
Mary made the right choice. Mary’s way of being hospitable was not
only to welcome the Prophet in their home, but to also listen to his
words. She has done what people should do – listen to the one who
speaks God’s word – "the one thing necessary."
Which makes us ask ourselves: how do we offer hospitality to the
prophets? How open are we to hearing God speaking to us through the
"guests" among us? Sometimes these "guests" can be quite
disconcerting! A guest comes from the outside world. They bring us a
presence and a perspective we don’t ordinarily get because we are
immersed in our daily routine, companions and accustomed thought
patterns. When someone speaks from a different world view, or
another perspective on daily life, our first response is to put up
barriers – we feel our borders threatened. It is an act of faith and
trust in the Spirit to pay attention to what we hear and see and
then to reflect on its application to our lives. We can sit at
Jesus’ feet and listen to his words just by being more attentive to
those around us; especially those who are from the "outside," who
initially act and speak in ways foreign to us. Before we bolt the
door of our minds and hearts, we might practice hospitality and
openness. Who knows what we might hear? Who knows what riches we
might experience? Who knows, we might even be welcoming the Prophet
– the one sent by God with a word for us disciples.
Today we begin a three part series from the Letter to the
Colossians. Preachers may want to preach at least once from this
second reading during the next weeks. This letter presents Christ in
cosmic proportions and proposes to us how we can respond to him in
faith. Colossians teaches that Christ is our source of redemption
and in him we are set free from subservience to other powers and
ascetical teachings. Since Christ has set us free, the author of
Colossians tells us (we are not sure whether Paul or one of his
disciples wrote this letter), we are to give thanks to God for this
freedom and use it to serve others.
Today’s selection from Colossians can be confusing to people who
hear Paul say that his suffering is "filling up what is lacking in
the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body which is the
church." How strange... and what is "lacking in the afflictions of
Christ?" The author is reminding Christian ministers that we
continue to experience what Christ did before his resurrection – we
are suffering for the church. Our suffering is "on behalf of his
body." Why this suffering? So that we can bring to completion the
proclamation of the Word of God.
God’s Word is made "intelligible," or understood by those who
have not yet heard it, by the witness of Christ’s ministers. Our
willingness to make personal sacrifice for the gospel and, like
Paul, to "rejoice in my suffering," becomes a proclamation of the
gospel through our lives. He tells us that God’s Word was a "mystery
hidden from ages and from generations past." But now it is revealed
by the lives of "the holy ones." By their lives and sufferings "the
holy ones" reveal Christ himself. Paul is willing to "rejoice" in
his sufferings because he believes he is serving Christ’s body. Evil
forces in the world still exert their power over us, but those who
live in Christ’s sacrificial spirit can overcome evil and extend the
work of Christ’s reconciliation to others. How will Christ’s reign
be made known throughout the world? By Christ’s followers who are
empowered to live by his Spirit.
It has never been easy being a Christian in our world: not in
Paul’s time; not in ours. If we are faithful and living Christ’s
life, then we must make daily choices that set us against the grain
of our contemporaries. Friction and sometimes conflict, are the
result – and they are painful. Colossians reminds us that any
suffering – material, physical or spiritual – we endure for Christ
is not in vain. Rather, it contributes to spreading the Good News of
Christ to those around us. Are we all preachers? No, not all of us
will climb into the pulpit this weekend to preach. But Paul reminds
us that the message of the gospel is proclaimed through each
baptized person who faithfully lives out the sacrifices gospel
for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
ONE GOOD BOOK FOR THE
Luke Timothy Johnson, SACRA PAGINA: THE
GOSPEL OF LUKE. Daniel J. Harrington, S.J. Editor.
Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1991. ISBN
This commentary is part of a series
(SACRA PAGINA) of translations and expositions of the
New Testament books by Catholic scholars. It is meant
for biblical professionals, theological students, clergy
and religious educators. Preachers and those who teach
bible classes in parishes will find this an excellent
and helpful series.
not his fellow man, nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor. .
One who does these things shall never be disturbed.
As I am writing this issue, there are two pressing concerns
becoming more urgent each day. One is our treatment of immigrants at
our southern border, made more vivid by the shocking drowning of
Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his almost two-year old daughter,
Valeria, and the appalling treatment of children in detention
centers. The other concern is our neglect of Mother Earth. Whether
or not you believe that the earth is heating up, we, as a society,
are complicit in the abuse we have heaped upon her. Pope Francis
states, "Everything is connected!" The outward stress signs that we
see should cause us to do some inner reflection that we have
forgotten our humanity and our instructions to be stewards. In
Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth (Golden Sufi, 2016),
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee writes, "Our neglect and dismissal of the
sacred within creation are creating an inner wasteland as real as
the Tar Sands in Alberta" (300).
Throughout the ancient world, hospitality was the most
significant virtue practiced by every culture. In welcoming a
stranger, people believed that they may unknowingly be welcoming a
divinity in disguise. How would you treat immigrants if you
considered them a messenger from God? Have we forgotten the virtue
of hospitality as a society? Our unity with each other has been
Then, there is our treatment of our neighbor, the earth.
Vaughan-Lee writes, "Nature is not unfeeling matter; it is full of
invisible forces with their own intelligence and deep knowing. We
need to re-acknowledge the existence of the spiritual world within
creation if we are even to begin the real work of bringing the earth
back into balance. . .Instead we are caught within a contemporary
consciousness that focuses on the individual self, no longer even
aware of our deep bond to the sacred within creation" (296). Our
unity with the earth has been shattered.
The interrelationship between the physical world, as seen in our
relationships with others and the earth, and the spiritual world of
our interior lives must return to wholeness. Monday evening, July
22, Msgr. Michael Shugrue will be presenting in introductory look at
Pope Francis’ teaching document, "Laudato Si: On Care for Our
Common Home" at 7PM in the St. Monica building. RSVP at
Come and begin the work of reconnecting.
Director of Social
Holy Name of Jesus
Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for
persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted
in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
"[Martha] had a sister named Mary
sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak."
Mary’s way of being hospitable was not only to welcome the
Prophet in their home, but to also listen to his words. She has done
what people should do: welcome and listen to the one who speaks
God’s word – "the one thing necessary" – as uncomfortable as
prophets can sometimes make us feel.
So we ask ourselves:
- Where and when are my favorite times to stop and listen to
- Is my life to busy, with no "listening space?"
POSTCARDS TO DEATH
has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an
inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form
it is carried out."
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison
system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and
addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them
to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them
you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith
Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might
consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
- Jeffery Meyer #0280127 (On death row since 2/4/99)
- Ted Prevatte #0330166 (2/22/99)
- Raymond Thibodeaux #0515143 (3/2/99)
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC
For more information on the Catholic position on the death
penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:
Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the
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