Sunday, July 21, 2013

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Last week we heard the parable of the Good Samaritan,
which Jesus tells in connection with the commandment
to love God and to love our neighbor 
in the same way that we love ourselves.
The parable of the Good Samaritan cuts to something
that lies at the heart of Christianity:
love of God and love of neighbor are closely bound up together
and in service to our neighbor we are showing love to God.

The story of Mary and Martha in today’s Gospel
is recounted by Luke immediately after
the parable of the good Samaritan.
And if the parable emphasizes the importance of love’s active service,
today’s story points us toward a still higher form of love.
While Martha has got herself in an uproar
in her concern to provide fitting food and drink for her guest Jesus,
Mary sits at his feet and listens to his word.
When Martha complains about Mary’s indolence,
Jesus says that she has chosen “the better part.”
He says this even though the conventions of the day
said that a woman’s place was not at the teacher’s feet,
but in the kitchen, like Martha,
doing all the things necessary
to provide a fitting welcome for their guest.
But only one thing, Jesus says, is truly necessary.
While Martha is anxious to welcome Jesus,
Mary lets herself be welcomed by Jesus –
welcomed into the circle of his disciples.

This is not to say that the kind of service Martha offers is unimportant.
The very fact that Jesus says that Mary’s choice is better
implies that Martha’s is still good, 
and even in some sense necessary.
She herself is something of a “good samaritan”:
the active love that Martha shows to Jesus,
like the love that the Samaritan shows to the man attacked by thieves,
is in this life the ordinary form of love that we show to God.
But there is also an extraordinary form of love 
that occurs every so often:
those moments when one knows oneself 
to be fully present to God,
welcomed into God’s presence 
in the way that Mary was welcomed by Christ,
welcomed to be attentive and receptive 
to the truth that is revealed.

In the tradition of the Church we sometimes speak of this
as a “contemplative” or “mystical” form of love.
Most of us, I suspect, have some experience 
of being with someone we love,
whether this is romantic love or the love of friendship,
and feeling no need to do or even say anything,
feeling that we have been welcomed to share 
in the life of our beloved,
welcomed to drink in 
what the beloved shares about himself or herself,
welcomed in to discover in the one we love 
something deeply true about life.

When that lover or friend is God
this is what we call contemplation or mystical union.
For most of us, of course, such experience of God is not common;
we count ourselves lucky to catch even a glimpse of it in our prayer.
But when we do catch a glimpse,
when we feel ourselves truly welcomed into God’s presence,
we gain an inkling of what eternal life with God might be like:
being welcomed into a perfect love,
when time itself is frozen 
in a moment we wish would never end.

Commenting on today’s Gospel story,
St. Augustine said, 
“In Martha was the image of things present,
in Mary of things to come.
What Martha was doing, that we are now;
what Mary was doing, that we hope for.
Let us do the first well, 
that we may have the second fully” (Sermon 104).
Like Martha, we as individuals and we as a Church
seek to welcome the Lord and our neighbor 
through our active service,
and this is only right and just,
because God knows we have many needy neighbors
who hunger and thirst 
for both physical and spiritual food and drink.
But also like Martha, 
we as individuals and we as a Church
are anxious and worried about many things,
trying to read the signs of the times
so as to know how to welcome God most fittingly 
into our life in this place and time.
We need, like Mary, to let ourselves we welcomed by Jesus
to sit at his feet and drink in his wisdom,
a foretaste of the welcome we will receive in heaven.

As important as our service to God and neighbor is,
to know ourselves welcomed by Jesus,
to sit, like Mary, in intimate closeness with him,
to drink in his wisdom –
this, Jesus says, is the one thing necessary.
Because this is our destiny;
this is what gives meaning to all our labors;
this is the one thing in this world that shall remain for eternity.

St. Augustine wrote, 
“At present alleluia is for us a traveler’s song,
but this wearying journey brings us closer to home and rest
where, all our busy activities over and done with,
the only thing that will remain will be alleluia” (Sermon 255).

No comments:

Post a Comment