Prayer or Service? 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Martha and Mary, the two sisters in today’s gospel, were close friends of Jesus. He would go to their house when he wanted to relax, to get away from the demands of ministry. What a blessing for them. How proud they must have been to host Jesus in their home.
Not only were Martha and Mary friends of Jesus, they were also followers. They believed that he was the Messiah. They listened to his sermons and tried to put them into practice.
Martha loves Jesus and wants to provide a meal he will enjoy. She’s the type of person who likes to help others, who wants everything to be more or less perfect, and who likes to stay busy.
But her sister Mary is not so interested in how clean the house is or how dinner is coming along. Mary is more focused on relationships than getting things done. She wants to take advantage of every minute she has with Jesus. She is happy sitting at his feet and listening to him.
Many of us can relate to Martha’s indignation at Mary. She is slaving away in the kitchen and could use some help. But many of us can also relate to Mary. We would love to have an opportunity to sit at Jesus’ feet, to look into his eyes, to hear his voice.
Jesus’ reply cuts right to the heart of the matter: “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 away from her.”
These words are also important for us to hear. We can fall into the belief that following Jesus is a matter of getting things done. If we are busy doing God’s work, then we must be good Christians. There is another dimension to the Christian life that can get lost when we allow ourselves to get anxious and worried about many things. It is the dimension of prayer. Prayer is relationship with God.
Every one of us needs 30 minutes of prayer a day, except when we are busy – then we need more time for prayer. It is when we are anxious and worried about many things that we need prayer to remind us why we are so busy in the first place. Prayer helps us build our relationship with God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Because prayer is relationship with God, prayer calms our spirits and revives our energy. However, prayer seems to be the first thing we stop doing when we are busy. Don’t let that happen. Jesus tells us that listening to him is the “better part.” We should make it the better part of our day every day, but especially if we are feeling overwhelmed.
If you are thinking: “Well that’s fine for the priest to say, but I just don’t have the time.” Ok. How about 4 minutes? How about 4 minutes with God? Set your phone alarm to go off 4 times per day. Once in the early morning, once mid or late morning, once mid or late afternoon and once in the evening before you go to bed. When your alarm goes off, no matter where you are or what you are doing, that’s your reminder to think about God for 1 minute. Just rest in God’s presence for 1 minute. If you want to read a brief scripture passage or say a prayer, fine, but be sure you acknowledge that you are in the holy presence of God for just one minute. Can you do that?
You know, sometimes, we can make our Christianity about one thing For instance, people who serve in soup kitchens sometimes think it is all about serving the poor, and if you are not serving the poor, you are not a good Christian. Other people make Christianity just about going to Mass and prayer. To them, if your day isn’t filled with rosaries, Divine Mercy chaplets, and other devotions, then you are not a good Christian.
If we are paying close attention to Jesus, then we understand that following him means doing ALL those things. It means serving the poor AND praying. It means going to Mass, listening to God AND going to the soup kitchen. It is about working against abortion AND praying for a better answer than the death penalty. There are many ways to follow Jesus. All of them are important.
At the same time, it’s true that some of us have gifts that others don’t have. Some of us may be more like Martha who was good at organizing and getting things done. We need Marthas in the Church. Or maybe you are more like Mary who was good at listening and praying. We need Marys in the Church too. Whatever your gift may be, use it for the glory of God. But also be thankful for those who have a different gift, because none of us can do it all. Let’s stop judging others who serve Jesus with different gifts than we have and be grateful for all the gifts of the Holy Spirit working through all the Church’s diverse people.
Jesus promises us, if like Mary we seek the better part, we will not be deprived of him. If we seek Jesus in prayer, then we will find him and have a relationship with him. If we spend time quietly in his presence, then we can be sure that he will speak to us. No matter how busy we are, we will not be very effective in serving Jesus if we are not spending time listening to him. By taking that time every day to sit at his feet, we will become better Christians, no matter what our gifts may be.