16 July 2016


genesis 18:1-10a; colossians 1:24-28; luke 10:38-42

parents complain about their children: «i slog from morning till night working for my kids to give them the best. they don’t care. for whom am i working … if not for them?» children also complain: «dad and mum never spend time with me.» a dilemma! be with the children or do things for them?

this dilemma finds an echo in today’s gospel: martha and mary respond to JESUS’ presence… one by serving him, the other by sitting with him. both responses are good, yet seem to contradict each other.
to understand the thrust of the incident, we need to look at its context. today’s incident comes after the parable of the good samaritan, which JESUS concludes with the exhortation «go and do likewise.» the passage that appears after this incident concerns prayer in the disciple’s life. in between we have a real-life situation: martha serves JESUS, and mary sits with him. who is neighbour to him?

reginald fuller—a biblical scholar—suggests that the martha-mary incident is a corrective to the activism of the parable of the good samaritan: the exhortation «go and do likewise» is meaningful only when it flows from being with the LORD. for martha’s service to be a genuine expression of love of neighbour, it would need to flow out of being with JESUS.
further, it’s about discerning what a person needs in a particular situation and at a given moment. JESUS is on his way to jerusalem to his passion and death. his greatest need is not «many things» but an empathetic and silent presence. that is what mary gives him.
finally, it’s about balance. we need to combine being and doing—without being with people, we cannot discern their need, and our doing could lead to anxiety and angst; without doing, our being could be passive. someone said: «there is a need occasionally to get the visionaries in the kitchen and the kitchenaries in the vision.»

will my love of neighbour flow from my being with the LORD? will i discern a person’s need and then meet that need? will i strike a balance between being with people and doing things for them?