16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Genesis 18:1-10; Colossians 1:24-28; Gospel Luke 10:38-42
Mary our Model – Be Discerning

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at St Joseph's Church, Victoria Street – Singapore
on 10 July 2016

What does it mean when we say that so and so is a behaving like a “headless chicken”?  We know that when a chicken’s head is chopped off, the brainless chicken’s body would dash in all directions because its muscles and nerves, suffering from the trauma have clearly lost all coordination between the body and the brain. 

Martha in today’s Gospel account was not quite behaving like a “headless chicken” although she may give us that impression.  Martha loved Jesus as much as Mary loved Jesus.  Martha was rightly excited at Jesus, whom she loved as a dear friend coming to her home; it was a moment of great privilege and honour to her.  However, she became over-zealous in her hospitality.  As such, she could not understand and was frustrated at why her sister Mary, was not helping her and just sitting around passively and listening to Jesus. 

Then Jesus said to her, “Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed one.  It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her.”  In other words, Jesus was saying to Martha, “Martha, don’t take your sister away from her desires to listen to Me . . . this is more important than the food that you are preparing for Me.”  For those of us who habitually behave like “Martha” we could even feel her frustrations in our bones.  In fact, we would even understand, if Martha were to take offense at Jesus’ remarks and felt that Jesus did not appreciate her hospitality. 

The quality of our lives depend on the type of priorities we have in life.  And, the type of priorities we have in life will reveal how much peace and joy we experience in life.  It is no wonder that Martha was stressed up, and Mary was calm because her priorities were in the right place.  And so, my brothers and sisters in Christ, the first insight that is not always obvious to many of us is to have our priorities right in our lives.  In other words, we have to remind ourselves that not everything is important; some things are more important than others, and we cannot do everything we want in life. That is why Jesus said to Martha, “Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed one.  It is Mary who has chosen the better part.”  And so for many of us who live hectic lives, it is not surprising to find ourselves behaving like a “headless chicken” if we do not prioritise and truly live the type of life that God wants us to live. 

To live in God’s Love and Ways, we need to be more like Mary. For example, we need to be more fully in touch with what our families truly need, and more importantly, what is Jesus’ Spirit saying to us within our hearts.  For many of us, it is not so much that we do not love our families, but sad to say, we are like “Martha” giving what we think our family need.  Often, we may be mistaken that insofar as we give our children and families the things, and comforts and even the luxuries in life, we will have happiness in our homes.  We all know from experiences that this is not true and cannot be true.

If we think in this manner, even if we have good intentions, let us be reminded of what happened in Martha’s response to Jesus’ visit.  This is because we may be giving the people we love everything that we think they need, but unfortunately not what they need most.  And this is our quality time and our loving attention for them, as Mary did for Jesus.  In other words, while material satisfaction are important in life, what is more important is the deeper love we ought to have for one another.  Eventually, our decisions in our lives is about “quality and not quantity”.  Mother Teresa once said, “Our world is suffering not so much because there is lack of food, but from a lack of love.” 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, it is not how long we live, but how meaningful we have lived, and how much love we have shown in the way we have lived that matters.  Elsewhere, Mother Teresa also said, “If we have silence we will have prayer, and with prayer we will have faith, and with faith there will be love, and with love there will be service.”  And to this I would like to add, with service, there will be a loving attention that mirrors to the Christ-like Presence that leads people to God.  

To understand Jesus’ remark to Martha, that Mary had made the right choice, we have to note the context of Jesus’ visit.  Jesus was actually heading towards Jerusalem, where He knew He would soon suffer much persecution and eventually be Crucified cruelly as a criminal for proclaiming the Good News for the good and Salvation of all peoples. 

Let us imagine ourselves having just heard from our doctor that we are suffering from severe cancer and has only two weeks to live.  And as time is very short and precious, we visit our family and closest friends for the last time.  Would we not just want to spend some quiet time and quality time, relishing our relationships? 

However, if we were to prefer, to spend the last moments of our lives in wild parties, then in all probability this would show that as in our death, so also during our lives, we have merely been living a very superficial life.  In other words, as in our death, so also in our life time, we have probably neither done much good nor made real differences to the world and people around us.  And this can only happen if we have lived materialistic and self-centred lives where God is unimportant.  

Indeed, such a death is the saddest form of death.  It is a tragedy for the dying person to have eyes filled with tears of regret and guilt because he had come to realise, too late, that he had lived an aimless and selfish life.  This is like saying that God has given us a whole field of rich harvest and before we die, we realise that we have not used the great harvest for the people around us who are dying of hunger, and have merely let the whole barn of rich harvest rot away. 

My sisters and brothers in Christ, let us not forget that Martha and Mary were each in their own ways trying to be hospitable to Jesus as their guest.  However, the big difference between Martha and Mary was that Mary sensed correctly what Jesus needed, but Martha only saw what she thought was good for her guest. 

In other words, Jesus is reminding us that as we live busy lives, let us not be so caught up in our “busyness” that God and our spiritual lives become unimportant priorities in our lives.  In my annual family vacation, one of the prayers amongst the many that my brother who prepares the whole vacation would have the family pray is “The Family Prayer During Vacation Together.”  I believe it is relevant for me to share the prayer with you.


It says, “Dear Lord, how we have waited for this family vacation together, and now it is finally here once again.  Thank You Lord, for the opportunity to take a break from our daily routines and to replenish our minds, bodies and souls so that we may better serve You. 
Sometimes, our expectations for our vacations are unrealistic, and we find ourselves disappointed when things don’t go our way.  Help us not worry about having the “perfect” vacation, but to relax and enjoy every moment, whatever it may bring.  We are grateful for the joys that await us, whether they be the beauty of Your creation, the recreation amongst ourselves, or the gift of peace and solitude that You give us at this special time we have together as family. 
Blessed are You, Loving Father, for all Your gifts to us. 
Blessed are You for giving us a wonderful and close knitted family.
Blessed Father, we praise You for Your Son Jesus, who knew the
happiness of a family and to rejoice with us in moments of our celebrations . . .
Please Lord, also watch over us and protect us as we travel and spend our time together.  Bring us safely home at the end of this vacation; refreshed and renewed in our faith, hope and love for You, and for one another as family.
We ask all this through the intercession of Mary, Our Mother, who knew so well the importance of living the “Visitation” to her cousin Elizabeth, every day, Amen.

This beautiful prayer gave a deeper meaning to the daily Masses we celebrated at the end of each day in our hotel room and kept my family focused during our vacation.  The prayer also reminded us not to be carried away with our many visits and also not to forget to thank God who is constantly blessing our family during our vacation.  More importantly the prayer reminded us always to put God at the centre of our lives; for without God we are nothing. 

In short, my sisters and brothers, today’s Gospel of Martha and Mary is reminding us that the highest priority of our daily living must be God regardless of what we do; whether it is our vacation, our work, our illness, our hurts and trials in life or our service to those who are in need especially the poor, the aged, the lonely and the depressed.  We are each called to live for God and love because of God, so that when our life on earth comes to an end, we will receive our infinite blessings and reward of living in God’s Presence and Happiness for all eternity.”

Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.

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