Fr Jerry Browne (National Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies)
There is a story told about a mother, who while listening to the prayers of her small daughter, heard her listing some requests for blessings that children often do. “Bless Mommy and Daddy and Grandma and Grandpa …” and so on. The mom was surprised, however, when she heard her child conclude her prayer with these words: “Now, Jesus, what would you like me to do for you?” That’s a great prayer! “Now Jesus, what would you like me to do for you?” Somehow it captures a key aspect of what prayer is about, being present to God, listening to God, so that we might be present to one another.
The story of salvation reveals a God, in whose image we are made, reaching into our world and our lives and saying to us “I want to be present to you and I want you to be present to me, to know me, to experience me in your life, to know that you are loved by me.” In Jesus we see this intimacy revealed in his day-to-day ministry when he reaches beyond the societal and cultural conventions of the day and physically touches the outcast and welcomes the stranger. It is seen in his teaching stories such as the Good Samaritan, which we heard last Sunday, where the hero of the story turns out to be someone who would normally be shunned by ‘pious, upstanding, religious people’ and yet becomes the model for how we should treat one another.
In today’s gospel (Luke 10:38-42) we meet two women, Martha and Mary, who have just welcomed Jesus into their home. This story follows on directly from last Sunday’s gospel and continues to challenge some of the social and cultural conventions of the day. For example, it was not the practice that a woman would welcome a man into her house! And of course for Mary to sit at Jesus’ feet, and for him to allow her to do so, was controversial in itself, because by doing so, Mary, a woman, was taking “the place and posture of a disciple” which was contrary to normal practice in first-century Judaism.
Quite often when we read this passage we rush to defend, and sympathise with, Martha, when Jesus declares that Mary ‘has chosen the better part.’ It is important to remember, however, that this is a teaching story where the message of the previous story, the parable of the Good Samaritan, is opened up and explored. That story explored the great commandment “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.” Both stories are controversial, and have far-reaching social and cultural implications if taken to heart.
In today’s story Luke explores a crucial aspect of what is necessary in order for us to fulfil the great commandment – and that has to do with the importance of being ‘present’ – being present to God, to ourselves and to one another. It is when we take time to be present to God, that we come to understand more fully the need to be present to ourselves and to one another.
Just like the little girl in our opening story – when we draw close to God – we come to a place where we can say “Now Jesus, what would you like me to do for you?” It is in those silent moments, as we come to understand the true meaning of love – love that begins in God – love that helps us to understand our own value and worth, that we come to understand how we are meant to be with each other.
The challenge for us is to be able to manage our busy lives so that we are still able to take time to listen and be present to God. To discover that in the long workweek, or the charity that we support, or the chores that we do around the house, or the long traffic jams, or the dog that need walking, or the six hours of load shedding, that there is something sacred. God is present in all of those moments – and we often miss that.
Above all, it is about recognising that as much as we find God in the mundane aspects of our life, we find God also within ourselves, and in the people that we encounter every day, and that has profound implications for how we live.
The story of Martha and Mary bring together two women sharing the same house, living under one roof. In a way the two of them become a model for our lives, embodying both the contemplative and the desire to serve. They remind us that we must first sit at the feet of the Lord, so that we can know more fully where the Lord wants us to put our efforts, and then that there are times when we need to roll up our sleeves and do the work of the Lord.
The Lord needs us at times to be the good Samaritan to others, to share in his compassionate work of serving others in practical ways. He needs us to visit the sick, to support the weak, to help carry the burdens of others. There are other times when he needs us, and wants us, to be still before him and to ponder his word. This is the two-fold rhythm that is at the heart of following him, listening prayerfully to the word of God and then keeping it by the way we live.
And so this morning, as we gather here, what is it that these scriptures might be saying to us? That we need to slow down a little? That we need to take more time in silence? That we need to draw closer to the Lord, so that we can know more fully God’s desire for our lives?
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