18 July 2010 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Genesis 18, 1-10; Psalm 15; Luke 10, 38-42
Let us do a different reading of the Martha and Mary story in Luke. Sometimes we have to see the previous story in Scripture to find the context of the present Gospel. The story of Martha and Mary comes after the story of the Good Samaritan. The Good Samaritan emphasizes the importance of action in our faith. And thus, Martha’s household service is a good illustration of action serving the company of Jesus. However, the story of Martha and Mary makes Mary who sits at the feet of Jesus having the right priority which is to be with Jesus. It seems that the passage sets Martha and Mary against each other. And thus, we usually interpret the Gospel this way: without prayer, doing good for others is empty. However, I believe, the reverse is also true: without active love, our prayers are like clanging cymbals as St. Paul says in his letters. And thus I would say, that Christian living is having both Martha and Mary together, just like themselves: as sisters in the same household.
We can have another interpretation with a particular angle on the importance of women. Martha and Mary are definitely very good friends of Jesus and his disciples. The Gospel of John mentions their brother Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead. During the time of Jesus, the head of the household was the one who welcomed a guest. But this time, it was Martha and Mary who welcomed him, the way other women supported His ministry and avidly followed Him even after His death. And the good thing is this: the love these women have for Jesus as expressed by their actions were also reciprocated. Jesus in turn also loved them.
Moreover, the gesture of Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus is significant. Let us imagine ancient teaching classes. The students sat on the grass or the floor, therefore, at the feet of their teachers. In the Gospel, to sit on the floor meant Jesus teaching Mary in a rather “formal” way. At the time of Jesus, the women were relegated to the household and were not allowed to join or to learn because that was not their business. Their business was to tend their household and care for the husbands. “House-making” was exclusively for women. For Jesus to teach and to be welcomed by women affirmed their equal importance.
Just as the first interpretation teaches us to have a balanced life that puts equal importance to doing and being with Jesus, the second interpretation also seeks a balanced recognition on the importance of women. Just as Jesus loved and recognized the distinct and uniqueness of women, we too have to be aware that humanity shares both distinction and equality among persons. There are things that is true to all of us; there are also things that distinguishes us from others.
To achieve a balance is the challenge for people who both love God and love others as they healthily love themselves.