Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Apply the Enthusiasm for Work to Spiritual Development
and the Earnestness for Spiritual Development to Work
First Reading (Gen 1: 20-21, 23-32): Abraham received the Lord
Second Reading (Col 1: 24- 28: The ‘Way’ the Apostles preached was Christ
Gospel (Lk 10: 38-42): Martha and Mary
-“He is a man who in his eager pursuit of knowledge forgets his food, in the joy of its attainment forgets his sorrow, and who does not perceive that old age is coming on “ (1)
-“ Steal from this floating life a half day of rest.” (2)
-“Walk with this bag of cloth, sit with this bag of cloth. Put away this bag of cloth – how carefree it is” (3)
-“In the hottest days, doors closed and lightly clothed, no pines or bamboo to shade the room and corridor. To practice meditation one needs no mountain water, extinguish the heart's fire to feel cool”(4)
“Jesus entered a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks... the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part..“(Lk 10: 38-42)
We are very familiar with these verses. Some people use this passage to maintain that spiritual matters are more important than material things, prayer is more meritorious than work, spiritual development surpasses attending to 'worldly' matters and so on.
Actually, life is one undivided entity, we cannot be split into divisions, just as a person ordinarily has two legs and a bird two wings. So it is not a question of better or worse, more or less important, useful or useless. True, there are some Bible phrases, like “To give is better than to receive” or “Human beings cannot live by bread alone, but must rely on God's Word,” and so on. But these are not meant to compare two things, but rather to emphasize a point that may at times be neglected and attempt to correct it.
For example, in an aggressive, covetous society which easily resorts to force, we do not really know what it means to share or to give, so we emphasize the importance of sharing; in an environment where people think only of physical needs and forget about God and things of the spirit, we stress that the 'Word of God' is more important than food. Actually, both to give and to receive bring us joy, and if we only give and never receive we will not be happy. So it is true we need God's Word, but does that mean that we do not need food?
In today's Scripture reading Martha's problem is not about work itself. It is what her attitude towards work revealed. Although she was totally absorbed in her work, she did not know how to enjoy her work. That was why she was 'worried and distracted.' If Confucius were in her place, he would enjoy his work and “be simply a man who in his eager pursuit of knowledge forgets his food, in the joy of its attainment forgets his sorrow, and who does not perceive that old age is coming on.” (1)
In Chapter 5 of Pope John Paul II’s document “On Human Work,” he stresses the importance of the “spirituality of work.”. He believed that “the Church sees it as her particular duty to form a spirituality of work which will help all people to come closer, through work, to God the Creator and Redeemer, to participate in his salvific plan for man and the world and to deepen their friendship with Christ in their lives by accepting, through faith ,a living participation in his threefold mission as Priest, Prophet and King.” (On Human Work, art. 24).
At the time Martha's problem was not the work itself. She did not seem to know how to work, or how to appreciate and enjoy her work. Nor through her work was she able to 'develop spiritually.'
Life can be likened to a symphony, there are loud and soft parts, slow, fast and moderate tempos. It must all come together before it can become an elegant symphony that moves us with its variations and climax.
Our lives include body and spirit, physical and spiritual elements, different activities like work and prayer, time to be alone and time to be with people, and so on. Although we should be very serious about life, sometimes we should also know how to “steal away from this floating life for half a day of rest.” (2) We should be able to take things up as well as let them go, just like the monk with a bag of cloth in the poem:”Walk with the bag of cloth, sit with the bag of cloth, put away the bag of cloth – how carefree it is.” (3). We have lives that are busy and also lives that are leisurely. When we put this all together only then can it become what Jesus called a “richer and fuller life”. The question is: How can we do this? How can we bring about such harmony into our lives?
The proverb, “Dot the eye after drawing the dragon's body” tells us that if the dragon has no eyes, it has no life. Once it has eyes it can fly. The dragon cannot have a body without eyes, or have eyes without a body.
If Martha had had more contact with Jesus and more of Jesus' spirit, if she had been able to see the world through Jesus' eyes and love all creation with Jesus' heart, she then would have had a more fruitful life. She would have been able to taste the sweetness imbedded in life's various hardships. How would she then have complained about her sister not helping out?
Du Mu's son Du Xun Xe wrote a poem, “In the hottest days, doors closed and lightly clothed, no pines or bamboo to shade the room and corridor. To practice meditation one needs no mountain water; extinguish the heart's fire to feel cool.”(3) In the hottest summer days, in a room without the shade of pine or bamboo, the room is unbearable. How can one have a quiet state of mind to practice meditation? But if we can banish the heart's disquieting thoughts, relax totally and enter into a state of emptiness, we can still feel cool and happy even though we are situated in the middle of a fire.
“Extinguish the heart's fire to feel cool.”(4) To feel cool amidst heat is a skill that comes only after deep soul-searching. If Martha had been able to reach that point, how could she have felt so 'distracted,' or frustrated and overworked? Would she ever have complained about serving Jesus and working a bit harder for him?