By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp
Homily for 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time - on the Gospel
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Lord of the Work and Work of the Lord

Genesis 18:1-10 Colossians 1:24-28 Luke 10:38-42

A certain Catholic missionary was doing a very good job in his mission village in the African interior. In a few years he had baptized many people and built a church, a school and a health centre. Owing to his restless work schedule he took ill and had to be flown back to his native country in Europe for treatment. After many months he was well enough to return to Africa. To his surprise and utter disappointment he discovered that the whole village had abandoned his church and turned to a local evangelical preacher. Even the church he built now had an evangelical signboard in front of it. “What went wrong?” he asked himself. How did his flourishing mission collapse overnight. “What did I do wrong?” he asked his former church members. The truth hit home one day when a woman said to him, “Father, you did a lot for us. You gave our children clothes and built up our village. But there was one thing you did not do. You did not bring us to know Jesus as our personal Lord and Saviour.” Doing the work of the Lord is great. But knowing the Lord of the work comes first.

Today’s gospel is the story of two sisters, Martha who is busy with the work of the Lord, and Mary who is more interested in knowing the Lord of the work. For Martha service comes first, for Mary relationship comes first. Like the missionary in our story, Martha must have been shocked to hear the Lord himself saying that it is relationship with him that comes first, for without it our service is meaningless.

There are people who see Martha in this story as the material girl and Mary as the spiritual one. The association of Martha with materialism is easier to make in the English language where the name Martha seems to rhyme with the word “matter.” But this way of thinking in terms of separation between spirit and matter does not belong to the gospel of Luke. Rather Luke presents Martha and Mary as two sisters who are both interested in the Lord, two women who both want to please the Lord. The difference between them is the manner in which they go about trying to please the Lord. Martha takes the way of service or working for the Lord. Mary takes the way of relationship or being with the Lord.

Mark tells us that when Jesus called the apostles to follow him, he called them for a dual purpose: “to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message” (Mark 3:14). The need, on the one hand, to be with the Lord, to know him, to fellowship with him and be nourished by his word and, on the other hand, to do the Lord’s work, to serve the Lord in others, to proclaim his message of love in word and deed, brings us to a conflict. Which one comes first? How much of my time should I devote to being with the Lord, to prayer and listening to God’s word, and how much time to doing the work of the Lord? In spite of the urgent need to throw ourselves into the work of the Lord, it is only logical to say that my relationship with the Lord of the work comes before my involvement with the work of the Lord.

The point of the story of Jesus with May and Martha is not to invite us to choose between being a Martha or a Mary. The true disciple needs to be both Martha and Mary. The point of the story is to challenge our priorities so that we come to see that fellowship with the Lord, being with the Lord and hearing his word should always precede the work we do for the Lord. Do we have a program of daily fellowship with the Lord? Many people fulfill this by assisting daily in the Eucharist where they can also hear the word of God. Others schedule a holy hour or quiet time when they can pray and read the word of God. Whatever way we fulfill this need, today’s gospel invites all Christians first to be a Mary who sits with devotion at the Lord’s feet listening his word, and then also to be a Martha who throws herself with energy into the business of serving the Lord.

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