where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him.
She had a sister named Mary
who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.
Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said,
“Lord, do you not care
that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?
Tell her to help me.”
The Lord said to her in reply,
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.
There is need of only one thing.
Mary has chosen the better part
and it will not be taken from her.”
We all appreciate being made to feel welcome in a place. We find a good example of welcome in today’s first reading. Three men appeared near to the tent, the home, of Abraham and Sarah. Abraham immediately began to make them feel welcome. He gave them water to wash the dust off their feet, he asked Sarah to make three loaves, he asked his servant to prepare a calf for them to eat, and when all was ready he placed the meal before them which they ate under the shelter of a tree. It was actually the Lord who was coming to Abraham through these three visitors. Without realising it, Abraham and Sarah were offering hospitality to the Lord. The Lord continues to come to each one of us today through those who need our hospitality, our welcome.
We can show hospitality to people, we can make them feel welcome, in different ways. Sometimes showing hospitality to someone, welcoming them, involves some activity on our part. There may be a room to get ready, food to be bought and prepared. Certainly Abraham and Sarah sprang into action when the three visitors arrived on their doorstep. When Jesus came to the home of his friends Martha and Mary, it was Martha who sprang into action. It seems as if she set about preparing an elaborate meal for Jesus. This was her way of showing Jesus hospitality. Mary welcomed Jesus in a different way. She sat at his feet and listened to him speaking. She welcomed Jesus not by doing things for him but by listening to him. This can be a very important way of showing someone hospitality. They come to visit us and what they really want is a listening ear. If a cup of tea is served as well, all the better, but it isn’t really the cup of tea they have come for. Mary and Martha were showing Jesus hospitality in different ways, and both ways were very valid and appreciated by Jesus. However, Martha didn’t think much of Mary’s way of showing Jesus hospitality. She criticized her sister to Jesus, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do the caring all by myself? Please tell her to help me’. Jesus responded to Martha with great affection, calling her twice by her personal name, ‘Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things’. It is as if Jesus was saying to her, ‘Don’t be worrying and fretting over me. I don’t expect anything elaborate’. Jesus also wanted Martha to appreciate that Mary’s way of showing him hospitality was very valid, ‘Mary has chosen the better part’. Perhaps, on this occasion, the kind of hospitality that Jesus wanted was a listening ear. He wanted a human presence, rather than all kinds of presents or gifts in the form of food of various kinds.
Mary may have been quicker to recognize that this was the kind of welcome that Jesus wanted at this time. There must have been other times when he was received into people’s homes and he had nothing much to say and a good meal was exactly what he wanted. We all have to learn what it is that love for someone requires of us at any particular moment. We need the sensitivity to know whether the loving thing to do is to roll up our sleeves and get to work on their behalf or just to sit and listen to them. There is a time for both. Do you remember last Sunday’s gospel reading? When the Samaritan came upon the broken traveller, it was definitely the time to spring into action. After all, the man by the roadside was half-dead. The story of Jesus’ visit to Mary and Martha’s home comes immediately after that parable of the Good Samaritan in the gospel of Luke. Perhaps it is showing us another form of service, the service of listening, of paying attention, of being present. It seems as if it was the hospitality of presence that Jesus valued most on this occasion.
Both sisters, Mary and Martha, are venerated as saints in the church. There are times when we need to be Mary for others, and times when we need to be Martha for them. That is true of our relationship with the Lord as well. There are times when we need to sit and listen to his word, just to be present to him, and then there are times when we need to work on his behalf, allowing him to serve others in a very practical way through us. If from time to time we are prayerfully present to him, sitting at his feet listening to him, like Mary, then there is a better chance that we will serve others in the way the Lord wants them to be served.
From Fr. Martin Hogan, Daily Homilies and reflections