Diverse examples of discipleship
The first reading and the Gospel offer us examples of hospitality and discipleship that should inform how we relate to one another and to God. Abraham, Mary and Martha exemplify attitudes and actions that we can learn from, especially in light of ongoing societal conflict.
“Jesus entered a village where Martha welcomed him” (Lk 10:38).
What can you do to welcome the stranger in your midst?
How can you inspire others to serve?
Are you open to hearing God’s call?
The first reading from Genesis describes Abraham’s interactions with divine messengers who visit him and proclaim the future birth of Isaac. When the visitors arrive, Abraham hurries to offer them comfort and nourishment. He prepares water for them to clean their feet and readies choice breads and meats for feasting. Abraham is deferential to these visitors, even asking them for the “favor” of being able to offer them care and hospitality. His actions reveal a welcoming attitude and an openness to commune and share with others, even and especially strangers in his community. This welcoming approach is a principle highlighted in Catholic Social Teaching that should ground our interactions with others, in particular those who might look different from us and those who come from other countries.
In the Gospel from Luke, we hear of an interaction between Jesus, Mary and Martha. Today’s Gospel must be read carefully in order to draw out a message that honors diverse aspects of discipleship. Otherwise, it has the potential to be misunderstood as pitting sister against sister and devaluing service, both of which are inconsistent with the larger Gospel message.
According to Luke, when Jesus visits Martha and Mary, Martha (like Abraham in the first reading) welcomes Jesus and serves him extensively, and she is “burdened with much serving.” At the same time, her sister Mary sat and listened to Jesus speak. When Martha complains to Jesus, asking if he is concerned that Mary is not helping her, Jesus tells Martha not to worry and to recognize that Mary has “chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”
The pericope seems to minimize Martha’s hospitality and labor and instead privilege Mary’s openness to learning. Given the larger Gospel message, however, this would be a misreading. Just last Sunday we heard the parable of the Good Samaritan which directly precedes this story. The parable highlights the importance of showing mercy through physical and financial care for a person in need.
Rather than downplaying service, in today’s Gospel, Jesus might be revealing another principle that is necessary for discipleship, attentiveness. Just as service is highlighted in the previous story, in the story that follows today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches disciples how to pray the Lord’s prayer. Martha embodies acts of service that are emphasized in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Mary, in her focus and posture, embodies the openness to learning and praying that are central to the story of prayer which follows. We must live out both types of actions in order to be disciples, showing care for one another and thoughtfulness and attention to prayer.