“Only one thing is necessary....”
We are encouraged in today’s gospel to welcome Jesus into our lives with heart and hands. Some say the two sisters, Martha and Mary, symbolize two essential aspects of the Church: prayer and service. Martha, busy about many things welcomes Jesus with her hands, making preparations for the meal. Mary, like a rabbinic disciple, sits at Jesus’ feet and welcomes him with a listening heart. Both are doing “the one thing necessary,” listening to the word of God, but in different ways. Service without love will not do. Prayer without action will be deficient. Holding these in balance can be a challenge for all of us.
Martha gets distracted from the role of welcoming Jesus with her hands through service by wanting to pull Mary away from listening at the feet of Jesus. She mirrors the tension between the two sons in the parable of the prodigal: one dutiful in the tasks at hand, the other receiving the extravagant love and attention of the father. It also helps us to realize that this episode in the Gospel of Luke, which focuses on the “one thing necessary” and choosing “the better part,” follows the story of the Good Samaritan, a pre-eminent example of the word of God in action.
“Blessed are they who have heard the word, embrace it with a generous heart, and bear fruit” (Luke 8:11-15).
“God of all goodness, give us generous hearts to welcome your word and receive your Spirit so we can know your will in the midst of our anxieties and frustrations. May we rejoice in the fruit you bring from our efforts to hear your Word and follow your Spirit. Give us today the bread of faith.”
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