Something disturbing from the Lord

Following is Bishop Olmsted’s homily on July 21, 2019, at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Phoenix:

When Jesus responds to Martha in today’s Gospel, something disturbing occurs. His words catch her off guard; they are unexpected and unsettling.

Martha was focused on doing what she thought was most loving. She wanted to offer Him the best hospitality; and she was certain she knew what was best. Martha thought that her work was more important than sitting at Jesus’ feet.

Jesus surprised Martha with a reply that is gentle but firm: “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.”

Those words astonished Martha. How could Mary be right and she be wrong? She herself was doing all the work; her kid sister was doin’ nothin’; just hangin’ out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, and listening. How could Mary’s choice be better than hers? Martha “knew” what was right. Or did she? Did she perhaps know only her own mind and not the mind of the Lord?

Faith comes from hearing,” writes St. Paul (Rom 10:17). That is what Mary was doing. Her listening to Jesus was not laziness, but obedience of faith, a higher love. Martha was not the only one doing something for Jesus. In fact, Mary chose the better part.

Friendship with Christ is His gift, a gift freely given by Him and totally undeserved on our part. It is not something we can earn, and not something we can repay. No matter how we respond to His love, it is nothing compared to what He does for us.

Pope Francis, in his first encyclical THE LIGHT OF FAITH, wrote: “there are people who “consider themselves justified before God on the basis of their own works. Such people even when they obey the commandments and do good works, are centered on themselves; they fail to realize that goodness comes from God. Those who live this way…become closed in on themselves and isolated from the Lord and from others.” (#19)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that prayer is a battle (CCC 2725-2745), and the battle is primarily against erroneous notions of prayer within ourselves. One of the most prevalent errors is the false conviction: “I don’t have the time.” Martha thinks that her duties of hospitality are more important than listening.

In the Prologue to St. John’s account of the Gospel (Jn 1:9, 11f), we are told the following about Jesus: “the true light, which enlightens everyone…came to His own, but His own people did not accept Him. But to those who did accept Him He gave power to become children of God.”Faith in Jesus, discipleship and friendship with Him demands stillness and silence, taking time to sit at His feet and focus all attention on Him. Mary’s welcome was far better than Martha’s.

Martha learned an additional thing from Jesus: what notto do during prayer: namely not to complain about others.“Lord,”she lamented,“do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.”Prayer is not the time to confess the sins of others, to grumble about the faults of one’s sister or brother, or wife or neighbor. Prayer is a time to focus on the Lord.

The sister of Martha, Mary, teaches us to listen to the Lord, to make prayer a daily habit. The “one necessary thing” is never to stop listening to Jesus, never to close our heart to what He says, even when His words call us to conversion of heart.

This is what makes daily prayer effective. This is how the Mass and Eucharistic adoration change hearts and bring newness of life.

Jesus tells his followers (Lk 8:21), “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”To those without faith, prayer is a waste of time. To His friends, however it is a vital necessity. Not only does faith come from hearing, but it also grows and matures when believers act on what they hear, even when it initially calls for a change of heart.

The Prophet Jeremiah wrote: “When I found your words, I devoured them.”May we do the same. Sunday Mass and daily prayer are not just add-ons; they are essential to life in Christ. As Jesus tells us, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Without me, you can do nothing.”

Jesus does not dismiss the value of Martha’s hospitality. There’s a need for tacos and tamales. That’s why Jesus Himself multiplied the fish and the loaves to feed thousands near the Sea of Galilee, and why He changed water into wine at the Wedding Feast in Cana. But He also spent entire nights in prayer; and frequently He withdrew from the crowd to be absorbed in loving communion with the Father.

When Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River, the Father said, “This is my Beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.”