In my own case, I remember my seminary experience very well. Almost weekly we’d be given ample opportunities to hear and reflect on the word of God. For me, I’ve always been motivated to do the things I have on my list to complete, and I frequently found myself reflecting not so much on the spiritual things, but on the more practical stuff – reading, homework, papers I had to write and other commitments I had, like checking in my dad or my sons.
And it’s likely we all have that kind of thing playing in our lives. We’re so busy that it’s easy to be distracted from the spiritual to the practical. Sometimes it’s hard to ignore the things you have to do in favor of merely sitting, listening, and reflecting on the beauty and majesty of God’s truth. And it’s hard sometimes to let these things go, even if it’s just for a few minutes. The become distractions for us, even a source of anxiety when we notice we’re just sitting there doing…nothing. Well, nothing that seems like it will help us in doing the things we know we need to get done.
And yet…. Today, after nagging Jesus to put her sister to work, Jesus tells Martha this: “Martha, you’re anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the best part and it will not be taken from her”. With these few words, Jesus is telling Martha that while her hospitality is in fact a good thing, discipleship to Jesus is better. And notice how he frames that call to a more receptive and reflective frame of mind when Jesus tells Martha that she’s worried and anxious about many things. In essence, Jesus is telling Martha that worry and anxiety are a distraction for her and they’re preventing her from entering more deeply into the revelations that Jesus wants to share with her. Obviously, Jesus is going to be at Martha’s home for only a little while before he moves on, so Jesus is not putting her life on hold indefinitely, nor is he saying that she should not consider ever getting her work done. But he is telling her that, while he is there and speaking in a special way to her, she should put her concerns aside for the time being and simply pay attention to what he has to say.
And what holds true for Martha holds true for us as well. Last week we heard the parable of the Good Samaritan which Jesus told in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” So, while the parable isn’t a recipe for action, per se, Jesus tells the parable to inform us that not only is everybody our neighbor, but that we have to be prepared to act on that fact, to stretch ourselves in the service of our neighbor, whoever that may be at any given time. The guy who asked the question did not know in advance what Jesus’ answer was going to be, and in fact was quite surprised with the depth and breadth of it.
In today’s gospel, we do not know what Jesus was talking about. All we know is that Jesus was teaching, and while he was teaching Martha was performing some kind of service that was pulling her away from whatever it was that Jesus was saying. In other words, whatever it was that Martha was doing for Jesus, that had the net effect of drawing her away from Jesus. Ironic, isn’t it?
The point is that today Jesus is telling us that it behooves us to listen to him. Maybe what we’ll hear will sound and seem strange to our ears, but we know from last week’s gospel that hearing Jesus is essential to the work we do – is it just our people who are our neighbors, or is it everybody who is our neighbor? Jesus clarifies things we probably would not be able to figure out for ourselves.
And he’s telling us today that our listening to him, our reflection on his words, is essential to the proper orientation of our work – which, Jesus tells us, should be directed toward love of neighbor. The key is that if our work and our concerns are not focused on Jesus Christ, that work cannot be animated by Jesus. Now, for us then, the necessary thing to be animated and driven by Jesus is to pray and follow his leadership.
So, what does that mean in practical terms? Well, certainly we pray for our needs and the needs of others. But if that’s all you do it isn’t enough. We should carve out a little bit of time each day just reflecting and meditating on the word of God, simply asking Jesus to help us understand better what he wants us to know. In order to do that, we have to be quiet – no words. Just ask Jesus the question, and then in the silence of your heart simply love him, silently and without words. It doesn’t take a lot of time, just a few minutes every day.
Another thing you might do is read a short section of the gospels. Turn it over in your mind and heart, asking Jesus to explain it better. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes, just do a little every day.
Another thing you can do is talk about your faith with your family and friends. It doesn’t have to go too deep, just invite an answer to your question. You might be surprised at how much others may know. And, if you have kids, talk about, and teach, the faith to your kids. I did a lot of that with my kids when they were young, and I think that kind of discussion ultimately had a lot to do with my becoming a priest.
Anyway, know that Jesus wants to be a part of your life. Invite him in. It may take a while to begin to recognize his voice, but when that starts you won’t be disappointed.