When Mary Opted Not to Work with Her Hands
Homily, 16th Sunday in OT, 17 July 2022
We Filipinos like many other Asians are known for our hospitality. Whenever foreign visitors and guests arrive we always offer them a very warm welcome. We serve them the best food and make sure they are more than comfortable and contented during their stay with us. In fact, at the national level, the Department of Tourism has come up with a powerful tagline “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” in order to invite and entice more tourists to come and visit our beautiful islands, showcasing everything that is good and beautiful about us: from mouth-watering food, white sand beaches, colorful marine life, golden sunsets to bonggacious feasts, charming smiles and pretty faces that exude the best kind of hospitality. On a personal note, whenever I go home to Lucban in Quezon Province to visit our relatives, I always experience the best kind of hospitality as my cousins never fail to serve Lucban longganisa, pansit habhab, espasol and many other delicacies the town is famous for. Special thanks to my cousins Tinton and Nat as well as my nephews and nieces for the heart-warming hospitality they extended when I went to visit them last New Year.
Today we celebrate the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. If you recall last Sunday, the gospel passage presented Christ teaching us the way to eternal life, by being sensitive to the needs of our neighbor. He said that a good disciple is one who strives to be a good Samaritan to others no matter who they are by doing good to them or by being engaged in various works of charity. Today the set of readings develops the same theme but gives particular emphasis on the value of hospitality and the “return of investment” it can possibly give.
The first reading presents to us the story of Abraham who got the biggest surprise in his life. We recall that he and his wife Sarah had been childless and there seemed to be no more chance for them to have a baby due to their old age. One sunny day, however, he saw three travelers making a stop-over in front of their tent-like house. He must have immediately perceived how tired and exhausted they were from the long journey. And so he offered them hospitality. He quickly had some bread baked for them, and a male cow slaughtered and roasted. He also offered them a foot spa under the tree while they wait for the food to be served. He did not even know who they were but from the goodness of his heart, he extended to his guests the best kind of Asian hospitality, without billing them or charging to them the cost of food and service fee. What happened next blew him away. One of his unexpected guests asked where his wife was and upon learning that she was just there inside the tent, he promised Abraham that by the following year his wife Sarah would already be nursing a baby boy. Naturally, Sarah when she overheard the statement just laughed quietly and did not believe. But what she heard was not a fake promise at all. It was the truth for after a year despite their old age Abraham and Sarah were indeed gifted with a baby boy according to the promise of God. With this story, we are amazed to know what kind of “return of investment” our expressions of hospitality can offer as a reward.
In the Gospel story, we just heard, we see the same kind of hospitality being shown. When Jesus came to Bethany he was gladly welcomed by a woman named Martha who immediately busied herself with preparing food for him. But to her dismay, she was left alone to do all the work at the kitchen, while Mary sat comfortably at the feet of the Master to listen to him. When she couldn’t take it anymore she spoke up and, addressing herself to Jesus, voiced out her complaint: “Lord, do you not care, that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” Surprisingly, however, Jesus opted to disregard her request while affirming what her sister Mary chose to do, that is, to sit down and listen to the Master. He understood that when Mary chose not to work with her hands, she actually allowed the Lord do his work first on her heart.
What is Jesus teaching us through this factual event that happened during his public ministry? It is this: in Christianity, there exists a much better and much higher form of hospitality. And it is when we put aside all our activities including our services and acts of charity for the purpose of listening and meditating on God’s Word.
What Jesus means is that we cannot allow ourselves to be overly busy serving others that we neglect to pray and listen to the Lord speaking to us. For him, every follower should give top priority to prayer and contemplation over any other activity because prayer is our communication with God who loves us and empowers us for service. And that is why he affirmed more the attitude of Martha’s sister Mary who during his visit immediately sat down at his feet to listen to him.
This somehow explains why after six days of work we Catholics stop all that we are doing and gather together in church every Sunday. This is the privileged moment for us to listen to God’s Word. And then as a response, we offer to him our Eucharistic sacrifice, before engaging in the mission.
Brothers and sisters, as I have mentioned last week in my homily, the Catholic Church could probably be the biggest non-government institution working for the victims of poverty, violence, and exploitation through her countless charitable works catering even to non-Christians. But in the light of today’s gospel, we realize that we really cannot accomplish much good if, individually and as a Church, we do not spend quality time to pray and listen to God’s Word prompting us what or where our next mission will be.
During our recently concluded Provincial Chapter held in Lawaan, we Salesians also realized that with new emerging realities there is so much work still left undone especially in this part of the Visayas and Mindanao. We need to reach out to many more needy youth and to improve the quality of our ministry towards them. Sad to say, however, our numbers are still disproportionately low. We urgently need more manpower to continue the work of saving and sanctifying the flock entrusted to our care. The mission while it impassions us continues to overwhelm us.
We pray in this Holy Mass that the Lord may continue to call and send more laborers to work in his vineyard and that many more young people may respond generously to his call. May we also be inspired by Martha’s sister Mary to give top priority to prayer over everything else allowing the Lord to do first his work in our hearts, so that our apostolate of being “good Samaritans” may truly be fruitful and pleasing to God.
Finally let us tell the world that our country the Philippines is not just another beautiful tourist destination. Being the biggest Catholic country in Asia it is above all a spiritual hub where one can experience God’s Word so amazingly alive and super engaging. GiG…sss!
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