16 Sunday of the Year C
Gen 18:1-10a; Col 1:24-28; Lk 10:38-42
Introduction: This is a homily/Scripture reflection in a book, titled: ‘Every Week God Speaks We Respond’, Cycle B, intended to be published in the future by Reverend John Tran Binh Trong.
It was published in Vietnamese in the US 2008 and republished in Viet Nam 2011. To keep the author’s writing style, this homily has not been edited and may not be by a hired hand. However, if readers would like to point out mistake(s) in spelling and grammar and/or to suggest English phrases and expressions, it would be greatly appreciated by the author, whose English is not his mother tongue and who did not live in the US until his adulthood. Passive sentences are used intentionally in this context as to avoid using the first personal pronoun ‘I’ when applicable. That might be associated with any idea of egotism, in accord with the French saying, known as: ‘Le moi est haissable’ (The ego is detestable).
The liturgy of the word today shows us a spirit of hospitality. Hospitality urged Abraham to prepare a good meal with the help of his wife Sara and a servant for three messengers of God and he himself waited on them. His hospitality was rewarded when the messengers of God announced that the following year his wife, even advanced in age would give birth to a son named Isaac (Gen 18:10a).
Marta and Mary also showed hospitality, each in her own way. Marta showed her hospitality by preparing a big meal for Jesus, complaining to Jesus that her sister Mary did not help. The two sisters must have been acquainted with Jesus that Marta could say to him in such a sincere manner: Tell her to help me (Lk 10:40).
Here we have to sympathize with Marta because she had to prepare the meal by herself without modern kitchen appliances. However, her weak point is - according to Jesus - she was anxious about many things that she underestimated the importance of listening to Jesus. We might react like Marta, when we are busy with our work; we criticize those who like to talk and do not like to work.
When we do not like to work, we might use the example of Mary to justify our unwillingness to work. However, Jesus praised Mary for listening to his word. He said Mary had chosen a better portion (Lk 10:42). When Jesus said Mary had chosen a better portion, then by comparison Marta must have chosen not so good a portion. That is why Jesus did not say that Marta had chosen a bad portion.
The fact that Jesus was born as man required that he ate and drank. In order to eat and drink, he needed somebody to cook. Marta prepared a meal for Jesus. Jesus only reminded Marta gently and lovingly, saying: Marta and Marta you are anxious and worried about many things (Lk 8:41). Surely, Jesus must have known them because he and his apostles often used their house as the guesthouse each time they had come to Jerusalem. Perhaps Jesus wanted to say to Marta: Do not prepare too much; one or two dishes should be enough; next time you can try another dish.
Perhaps Jesus also wanted Marta to listen to how people had reacted to his preaching and healing, whether any group had opposed to it or supported it. How can we compromise the roles of Marta and Mary in our faith life? To compromise, we need to work and to pray. When mother Teresa of Calcutta was asked how she got her strength to continue her daily service to poor children in India so continuously and enthusiastically? She responded she got her strength from the Eucharist. That is why she spent hours and hours praying before the Lord in the Eucharist. The best way to compromise is to work in a spirit of prayer, i.e., to work in the presence of God.
In our days, we are occupied by constant noise and distraction. Therefore, we need to learn to listen to God’s word and his voice. We need to find quiet time to pray, to make a retreat, to be alone with the Lord and to put ourselves in his presence. That is why today we gather here in God’s house to worship and pray, to be away from a hectic atmosphere, to try to understand how the mysteries of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection are influencing our lives.
God is present in our midst when we gather to pray and worship. We need to prepare ourselves how to be ready to listen to his word in scripture, in the church and in the sacraments. Today each one of us needs to ask ourselves these questions: How have we prepared for the Sunday worship? How can we listen to the word of God if we worry about what we are going to do after mass, what to eat and what to get in the grocery? On Sunday, we come together in the church to worship God, to listen to his word in the scripture. How can we prepare ourselves for that so that we may not distract ourselves about our business, and not worry about what to do at home?
In order for our mind to settle as to put ourselves in God’s presence, we need to prepare ourselves before mass, finding ways to remind us of what needs to be done or purchased after mass, writing down what we need to get in a shopping list, instead of thinking about them during mass. For practical application, those having small children should estimate how much time they need to prepare children, washing and dressing them for mass.
In his apostolic letter, which, Pope John Paul II sent to us the pope reminded us: ‘Sunday is the day of the Lord, the day of rest. Sunday is also the day of the resurrection of the Lord, the day of joy’. The Pope reaffirmed: ‘To miss Mass on Sunday without good cause is still a grave sin’. The Sunday mass must be the center of our Christian life. What do we mean by that? It means at least once a week, we come to mass to be nourished spiritually by the word of God in scripture and the Body of Christ in the Eucharist, so that we may be able to live our lives meaningfully and joyfully. At the end of the week when our zeal and strength run low, we come to mass again to be refreshed. Sunday is also the day of the Church. Therefore, the Church has duty to sanctify the day of the Lord by taking a rest, or by doing social and charitable works, or by serving God’s house or serving his people.
Prayer for knowing how to choose a better portion:
Oh Lord God, you are God of wisdom and intelligence.
Teach me to listen to your word and your voice.
Give me a spirit of wisdom
so that I may choose a better portion
for myself and my children.
Do not let me occupy myself too much with external things
that I may forget the essential for my spiritual life. Amen.
John Tran Binh Trong