July 17, 2010


16th Sunday - C
Luke 10:38-42

The Person First, Not the Action

This passage from Luke's gospel has so often been misinterpreted to make one way of being Christian better than another. Namely, religious life is better than the life of a Christian "in the world," or "the contemplative life is better than the active life." [1]

The context of the passage in the Gospel should help us undertand it more appropriately. In Luke's structure, the story of Jesus in the house of Martha and Mary comes immediately after the parable of the Good Samaritan (last week's gospel). At the end of the parable, Jesus tells the scholar of the law to go and do what the Samaritan does -- serving those in need.

In this context, it would make Jesus contradict himself to suggest that he scolds Martha for doing an act of charity, in this case, being hospitable in serving Jesus. Would Jesus be that mean and ungrateful?

On the contrary, Jesus points out to Martha that as a disciple, she needs to do both serving and sitting at the feet of Jesus to listen. [2] Doing one without the other is not enough.

In addition, Jesus' observation of Martha could also be translated as "You make such a fuss of yourself." [3] In fact, in her worries and anxieties, it seems more about herself than about taking care of her guest.

If we lose sight of the person we are serving, we can lose sight of why we are doing it. And in the end, it can be just about us, our ego, or our ideas, and no longer about the other.

Only attentive listening and learning from Jesus can keep our eyes focused on him present in our brothers and sisters whom we try to serve.

[1] Francis J. Moloney, SDB. The Gospel of the Lord: Reflections on the Gospel Readings, Year C. Homebush, Australia: St. Paul Publications, 1991; p. 146.
[2] Ibid., p. 147.
[3] adapted from Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke. Sacra Pagina Series, Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991, p. 174.

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