16th Sunday Year C – Introduction to lectio divina on Lk 10,38-42
Since he was always on the move, Jesus frequently had recourse to the hospitality of friends and acquaintances. Luke develops this specific incident, and presents it as a model for every disciple of Jesus. It is no mere coincidence that the principal characters are two women who welcome Jesus to their home. Their attitudes differ. One of them serves Jesus, the other listens to him. Their attitudes are reasonable. Neither of them is criticized by Jesus, but the one who fusses over him seems to come off worse than her sister. When it became known where he was, Jesus took steps to let people know how he liked to be welcomed. He prefers attention to service. He prefers to have people listening to his word rather than fussing over his wellbeing. What he has to say, is more important than the service rendered to him. Worrying over other things is not so much bad as useless. When people welcome Jesus to their home, the best thing they can do for him is to listen to his word and be fascinated by his teaching. Jesus does not criticize Martha but shows a preference for Mary’s attitude. When Jesus visits, what is important is not his person but his message. When God seeks hospitality among us, he wants to be welcomed and his will to be accepted in our hearts. All other efforts are useless if we ignore the wishes of the guest. Jesus wants to be listened to, not to be served.
At that time: 38 Jesus entered a village; and a woman named Martha received him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 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.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; 42 one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.”
I Read: understand what the text says, focussing on how it says it
Jesus has begun his “ascent to Jerusalem”. The time has come for him to leave this world (Lk 9,51). Since he is constantly on the move, he has to rely frequently on the hospitality of friends and acquaintances. Luke presents this specific incident as a model of discipleship.
The episode is reported very briefly. Little information is given, so we need to concentrate carefully on the little that there is. The core of the message is in the conversation started by Martha. We do not know, and it is impossible for us to imagine, why Jesus chose to visit Martha. He was bound to attract attention in the village by going to a house where there were only women. This was regarded as unusual. (Lazarus is mentioned only in Jn 11, 1-3, and there the village is named as Bethany.)
The two women were the only people to welcome him. Women are often the people responsible for offering hospitality. The two sisters received Jesus well and both were at his service, though in very different ways. They were acknowledged by Jesus for what they did and for how they reacted to his presence. Martha is completely concerned about serving him. Mary prefers just to listen to him. We should not forget that Martha, not Mary, is the one who intervenes most. She was the one who received him into her house and the one who served him, the one who was anxious about many things (Lk 10,40), and who asked him to get her sister to help her. Mary appears almost like a statue, sitting motionless at the Lord’s feet. Martha was busy welcoming him. Mary did nothing but listen to him.
Martha was anxious and worried. Mary was free of all other worries and able to concern herself solely with Jesus. Listening to his word is more than just a duty of the host. It is a question of accepting his message (Luke 5,1, Acts 13,7.44; 19.10 ). Mary sat at the feet of Jesus, the position adopted by a learner or apprentice , and allowed her sister to get on with the work on her own. All she wanted was to listen to the Master. Martha did everything that a good hostess ought to do. Mary did what was expected of a disciple – she sat at his feet, paying attention to what he had to say, welcoming him by welcoming his word. Martha’s concern was to welcome her guest properly, but she did not think about how Jesus wanted to be welcomed. With the best of good will, she became busy with so many different things that she did not have time to spend with her guest, as her sister did.
The two attitudes are understandable and complementary. Neither of the two is criticised by Jesus. Martha objects, not to Jesus, but to her sister. All told, it seems the more she fusses the more she feels unappreciated and poorly recompensed. When she voices her complaint, Jesus lets her know how he likes to be welcomed. He prefers attention to service. He likes to find someone who will listen to his word, rather than someone who will pay homage to his person. What he has to say is more important than what they want to celebrate. Anything else is not wrong, but is less important. Listening to his word is the best way of welcoming him.
II Meditation: apply that the text says to life
Today’s Gospel reminds us of a simple episode that took place one day in the life of Jesus. On one of his journeys he found hospitality in the house of a family friend. Jesus was constantly on the roads preaching the Gospel, and obviously was frequently in need of accommodation. The episode in itself is of no importance but the evangelist chose to present it to us as an example of the kind of hospitality Jesus expected whenever, in the course of leading people to God, he wanted to be accepted by them. In this way Luke transformed a normal incident from the life of Jesus into a law of Christian living. This incident has a lesson for all of us who want Jesus to come to visit us, either because we really miss him, or because we want to honour him as he deserves. By way of encouragement, the gospel passage tells us that Jesus still seeks friends who will offer him accommodation, a home and a family. To help us to prepare, Jesus lets us know how he likes to be received.
Jesus devoted all his time to preaching the kingdom of God. He did not have a home of his own, and so he needed the hospitality of friends and benefactors, As he said himself to those who wanted to follow him, he had no place to rest and nowhere to lay his head. He depended on the good will of those who wanted to offer him hospitality. He had sacrificed home and family for the sake of God and his Kingdom. The Kingdom had made him a pilgrim, but had also won him friends. The people who listened to him became his hosts, He received hospitality from the people who accepted his word. He was willing to be accepted into the homes of the people who accepted the word of God into their hearts. This was part of his missionary tactics: he recognized as his friends the people who accepted the Gospel. He allowed himself to be served by people who listened to his preaching and placed their lives at God’s service. Jesus did not separate mission and friendship, public life and private life. He formed friendship wherever his message was received. He gave himself to the people who received his good news.
If we want Jesus to come into our homes someday, if we want him to regard us as his friends, and if we want to really have him as our friend, we have no choice but to accept his gospel. Anyone who wants to receive Jesus, must accept his preaching. He does not give himself to those who run away from God. He avoids all those who think they have no need of him. He comes to the people who acknowledge that they are sinners. It should not be difficult, then, for us to meet him. However, we will wait for him in vain if we do not give time and space to his gospel. If Jesus is absent from our lives, it is because we are closed to his word, If he has nothing to say to us, if his person no longer speaks to us, why should he bother to come to us? Why should he be concerned with us, if we do not want to listen to him? If he is not important in our lives, why should he want to come to our homes? We do not know why Martha invited Jesus. Perhaps they were already friends (Jn 1,3.11). The fact is, she had the courage to invite him. Her invitation allowed Jesus to transform her home – the home that accepted him – into a pulpit for his preaching, into a seat of learning. What are we losing if we do not have the courage to invite Jesus into our homes? Before we complain about being abandoned by Jesus, we should ask ourselves if we have not abandoned him. Instead of complaining that God pays no attention to us, we need to ask ourselves how much attention we pay to God.
As on that day at Bethany, Jesus still wants to be well received by his friends. We cannot blame him if he avoids those who refuse to listen to the word of God. How could we expect to have him as a guest in our homes, if we do not accept his word as our nourishment and our task? However, knowing what he brings to our homes, we realize that all is not lost. Instead of blaming him, and complaining about his absence, we need to listen to his word and make his gospel our own. He will not delay in coming to us. If we are serious about the gospel, then, sooner or later, we will be serious about Jesus himself. And even if it means not listening to other messages, or sharing life with others, it will be well worth while. The fact that Jesus wants to be hosted means that the manner of receiving him is important. The homeless Jesus, without a roof over his head, has his own expectations and preferences. The fact that he is in need, does not make him any less demanding.
The gospel account revolves precisely around the different reactions of the two sisters who hosted Jesus. One was preoccupied with service, preparing the house and the food, doing everything she could for her newly arrived guest. The other was completely concerned with him, and him alone, listening to what he had to say and staying all the time in his company. Although quite different, the two approaches are understandable for anyone who loved the newly arrived guest. It would be wrong then to say that one is better than the other. Fussing around to attend to the needs of the guest, or simply spending time with him, are both what you would expect from people welcoming a dear friend. Both Martha and Mary did what Jesus wanted. They both gave him what he needed. Both acted as he would have expected.
Martha’s unease is very understandable. It was not fair that the heavier part of the work should fall on just one of them. Jesus led her to see that she was so concerned about serving him, that she was missing out on the joy of having him in her home. Instead of filling her with joy, his presence was distancing her from her sister. It was not good to have him in her home and not enjoy his presence. Without realizing it, Martha was seeking attention for herself, to be able to serve him better. She did not mind having to serve, but she was annoyed at having to do it alone. She felt unhappy, because instead of concentrating on whom she was serving, she was concentrating on the fact that she had to do it alone. Martha was unaware of her guest’s preference, and she was displeased that her efforts were not given due recognition. She was not upset at having to work. Jesus did not intend to highlight the opposition between action and adoration, between activity and contemplation.
The hardworking Martha serves as a model for many wonderful apostles today who find themselves trapped in feverish activity and are inwardly anxious. They complain of being lonely in their work and annoyed at the lack of interest in their efforts, and they do not enjoy the presence of the Lord who has come to their home. They worry more about how much it costs them to serve the Lord than they do about the Lord they serve. Martha is the figure of the apostle who does everything possible to serve the Lord without paying much heed to what Jesus actually prefers. Their great generosity makes them give of their very best but they don’t have time to receive the Lord’s word. They give of themselves but do not receive the Lord. Giving of their own resources is characteristic of people who think they are rich. Receiving what is given is the hallmark of people who acknowledge that they are poor.
Jesus might have said nothing, if Martha had not complained about her work. She was working hard. Her complaint was justified and reasonable, but it prompted Jesus to reveal his preference. When he comes to visit a house, he wants people to listen to what he has to say. When he speaks about God, his need to be listened to is greater than his need for food. Jesus did not praise Mary because she did nothing. He defended her because she gave him her full attention. The best host is not the one who offers most but the one who listens to him. He does not want the things we have, but our time and our heart. He does not want his presence to add to our worries and concerns, but he wants all who receive him to give him their full attention. Martha was not corrected for anything she did, but for what she did not do. Working hard to welcome a visitor is a sacred duty towards the one we love, but it should not lead to neglecting the visitor and forgetting to listen to him. If we spend too much time thinking about what we can prepare to give him when he comes to our home, we will not be able to receive what he has to give us.
Mary chose the better part by doing nothing other than staying with Jesus and listening to him. She made him the centre of attention. Jesus obviously preferred someone who would allow him to talk and relax, after a long journey among strangers and so many controversies with his opponents. Giving him the attention he desires is the best way to welcome him. For Jesus, the one who receives him best is the one who receives most from him. Instead of asking Mary to help her sister, Jesus invited Martha to join them. Mary had chosen the better part and it was not to be taken from her. Serving Jesus is good. Listening to him is even better. When Jesus comes to visit a house, the best attention that can be given to him is to listen to him, to pay attention to his word, to remain fascinated by his teaching. Jesus did not intend to discredit Martha, but simply to indicate his preference, When he comes to visit, the good news he brings is more important than his own person. Every effort, no matter how highly motivated it may be, is useless if we forget the guest’s own stated preference. Jesus wants to be listened to rather than to be served. When he is welcomed, Jesus prefers to give rather than to receive.
When he comes to us, we should allow Jesus to talk to us. We should allow him to fill our time. He does not come to give us more work. He comes to give us rest. There is no need to worry about what we can give. We should be concerned about giving him ourselves. We need not be concerned about what he leaves us at the end of his visit. All that matters is that we give him our time and our hearts in attentive listening, all the time he is with us. We will be the winners. We will receive the better part, and the promise that it will never be taken from us. That is how much our friend Jesus loves us!