7/21/13, One Necessary Thing

 Genesis 18:1-10,Colossians 1:24-28,Luke10:38-42

If you were with us last Sunday, you will remember that the homily reflection on the Good Samaritan story was left hanging with a “to be continued” promise. We understood pretty clearly the message that Jesus taught the religious scholar: authentic faith in God is shown when we love God with all of our hearts, souls, minds and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves.  Such love is demonstrated by obedience to God’s direction as written in the 10 commandments and the teachings that Jesus gave.  Jesus told the religious scholar, “Do this and you will live.”

A summary of 50 commands spoken by Jesus was offered for you to review this week.  The challenging thing about obeying these commands is that we need to get rid of our “yeah, but” excuses and take up the Nike slogan:  JUST DO IT!  That’s what Jesus told the religious scholar at the end of last week’s passage.  “Go and do the work of compassion that the Good Samaritan did.”  Action on behalf of others shows your love for God.”  Just do it.

But then in today’s gospel we are told a story that seems to contradict the value of doing in favor of not doing.  ARGH! What’s this all about?

 We are introduced in this episode to Jesus’ friend Martha.  Just as the good host Abraham did in the OT reading, Martha was following all the proper Hebrew cultural laws for hospitality when she welcomed him to her home. She was busy preparing everything that would show her respect and affection for Jesus.  However, Martha had a sister named Mary, whose personality was in contrast to Martha’s.  Martha was the Do-er, Mary was the Be-er.  While Martha was properly occupied with doing all the things that cultural law demanded of her, Mary’s way of showing Jesus respect and affection was simply to be with him and listen to his stories.

Have you ever wondered why the writer of Luke’s gospel placed the Good Samaritan parable right next to the Mary-Martha story? Why does verse 37 of chapter 10 say “get busy” while verse 42 of the same chapter says that busyness is a lesser good?  It seems contradictory that just after Jesus directs the religious scholar to take action, he would reprimand Martha for being active. And it also flies in the face of those 50 action-demanding commands of Jesus that are woven throughout the gospels.  What are we to make of this contrast of opposites?

The active minds of human beings are constantly thinking about and evaluating what’s going on in life.  Is this thing good or bad, right or wrong?  Is this person liberal or conservative, successful or unsuccessful?  On and on we go with our categorizing and judging. This is called dualistic thinking.

            As Christians who have been raised in a culturally and religiously dualistic mindset, one of the things we can get most hung up on is the idea of obedience versus disobedience.  Am I being a good Catholic or a bad Catholic?  A hard worker who deserves God’s favor or a slacker who is depending on grace?  Should I feeI guilty about not conforming to the letter of Church laws or should I feel free in listening to the voice of conscience?

            At the center of the dilemma is our idea of necessary obedience to law. Our first thought should be concern for being in active and participating relationship with God, but we are often more concerned that we are following the proper dictates of religious or social law.  

It is possible that this is the very dilemma that the gospel writer was asking people to consider when he placed these two stories back-to-back.  Should we get to work on issues of justice as the religious scholar was told, or should we just sit still and listen like Mary?

             To Martha’s complaint about Mary’s slothfulness, Jesus says that only one thing is necessary.  Although he doesn’t specify outright what that one thing is, he implies that by taking time to sit still and listen, Mary has chosen that necessary thing.  The really necessary thing is to listen carefully so that one knows what action one is supposed to take.

            “Mary sat at Jesus feet and LISTENED to his words.”  The word obey in the Old Testament means "to hear," "to listen", with reverent assent. The New Testament Greek origin of obey is suggestive of listening with intent to subordinate one's self to that which is heard. What Jesus was commending in Mary was her willingness to forego kneejerk obedience to social and religious expectation in favor of listening with the ears of her heart in order to know what her relationship with Jesus would require of her in time to come. 

            Such listening does not mean that action becomes unnecessary.  What it means is that unless we are willing to take the time to be still and silent before God, we may simply use up our energies and time in action that is not meant to be ours to do.  

            This is a crucial message for us at this present moment in the life of the Christian Church.  Rather than being hung up on following the literal letter of moral law as the Bible seems to present it, it would be helpful for us to still quietly and consider what the law of love as spoken and enacted by Christ teaches us. For Catholics, to listen with the ears of our hearts and ask Jesus how we should live out a renewed sense of Christian community for the 21st century might might mean that obedience to the Spirit of Jesus as heard in our conscience would mean disobedience to canon law.

            Our Lumen Christi community is an active example of such obedience to prayerful listening.  This week an 80 year old Jesuit priest, Fr. Bert Thelen, responded in obedience to the Spirit by giving up his status as an ordained priest to become part of the laity once again. (THIS NCR article contains the script of the letter written by Fr. Thelen http://ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/veteran-jesuit-explains-choice-return-lay-life)

 Is ordination wrong?   No--- what this means is that each of us, as a unique part of the whole Body of Christ, needs to listen carefully with the ears of the heart to discern what is our particular call to obedience, and at what time that action should be taken.  Could it be that God is calling some male priests to step down even as women are called to step up as the Church moves towards a balance of gender wholeness?  Can we trust our brothers and sisters in Christ to hear their unique calls to obedience without judging their actions as right or wrong?

            The ancient wisdom of Ecclesiastes 3 comes to mind in the midst of this mystery.  It reminds us that in the divine economy, there is a time for everything. There is a time to take action and a time to sit still in prayer.  I invite you to listen, watch and commit your heart anew to listening carefully to the Spirit of God calling each person to his or her own little piece of obedience.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIBu2p8FR3o

By Sandi DeMaster