Homily for the sixteenth Sunday of the year - Year C - Lk. 10:38-42
Father Daniel Meynen
"Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village; and a woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, 'Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.' But the Lord answered her, 'Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.' "
"Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village; and a woman named Martha received him into her house."
In the prologue of his Gospel on the Word of Life, Saint John tells us: "From his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." (Jn. 1:16-17) This is also what Saint Luke tells us today when he reports the visit of Jesus to a village, this village being none other than Bethany, where Lazarus and his two sisters, Martha and Mary, live (cf. Jn. 11:1-2). For, when Jesus visits someone, it is to give that person a gift, the most beautiful one there is: the gift of his grace, the source of eternal life!
But it is not enough that Jesus visits someone for this gift of grace to be truly given: above all, it is necessary that he or she to whom this gift is offered truly receives it, with heart, with faith, with love! This is what Martha did when she received Jesus into her home. Martha truly received the gift of grace that Jesus had come to bring her, and this grace gave her the strength to resolutely put herself in the service of the Lord. Now, Martha received a grace that was proper to her, a personal grace, a grace that was for her alone and that established her in a unique relation, one unlike any other, with the Savior of the world. Since then, Martha was in the service of the Lord!
"And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, 'Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.' "
When he went to Martha's home, Jesus did not forget to also give a gift to her sister Mary: he also gave her the grace to put herself in his service, but a different service, one proper to her person. Mary received the grace of listening attentively to the word of the Master! Mary listens to Jesus speak, and the grace she received makes it possible for her to understand and to meditate this word, which is none other than the Word of God. While Martha is busy in the service of the home, Mary remains in the service of the Word of God!
Martha does not seem to understand that there can be different ways to serve the Lord. So she asks Jesus if he finds it normal that her sister, unlike her, does not do any housework: "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me." Martha would prefer that Mary were like her and would also do housework. But, in fact, Martha is wrong. For it is not Mary who should be like her, but rather Martha who should be like Mary! And Jesus will make her understand this...
"But the Lord answered her, 'Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.' "
Martha and Mary are both in the service of the Lord, for both of them have answered the call of God's grace. But the ways in which the two of them carry out this service differ. Just as a human being is composed of a soul and a body, so too is the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, composed of a spiritual aspect and a corporeal aspect. Here, Martha represents the corporeal aspect, and Mary, the spiritual aspect of the Mystical Body of Christ. Both are in the service of the Lord and of his Church, but in different ways. But, since God is spirit (cf. Jn. 4:24), the spiritual aspect of the service of the Lord is the better of the two.
So all those who, in the Church, receive the grace of being in the service of God in his corporeal and material aspect must make an effort, with the help of this same grace that they have received, to transform their service to God into a spiritual service. There is nothing wrong with Martha's service - quite the contrary. But Martha did not make enough effort to lift up her soul to the Lord, in order to find in her service of taking care of her home all of its spiritual value. For, by carrying out her service in a more serene and spiritual manner, Martha too could have had a taste of the joys of contemplating the Word of God!
"Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her."
In today's first reading, we heard the story of Abraham, who was visited at his home by three men, images and figures of the Most Holy Trinity coming to dwell in the hearts of the just. Now, something important happened which was the fruit of this visit: the announcement of the birth of a son, a year at most after this meeting between Abraham and the three men (cf. Gn. 18:10). This means that he or she who receives a visit from God, and who believes in him, will also receive the promise that he or she will give birth to a child, this being understood in a spiritual sense. In other words, all those who receive the gift of God's grace can hope, one day, to truly become the sons and daughters of God! The grace of God is never received in vain: it is like a spring from which pours forth water for eternal life!
Truly, "Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her." How can we not see, here, that other Mary, the unique, she whom God chose to be his Mother according to the flesh! Even more so than Martha's sister, Mary the Mother of Jesus is our model in the service of the Word of God! But as Mary is the model of all of Christ's faithful, she is also the model of all those who serve God by faithfully, but spiritually, taking care of their home. Did Mary not leave Nazareth right after the Incarnation in her of the Word, in order to go and help her cousin Elizabeth with her housework? But it is in the intimacy of the Word of God, in the union with the Holy Spirit who has become her Husband, that Mary resolutely put herself in the service of the Lord and of his Mystical Body, already born!