Wed, July 13, 202210 mins readFather Hans Buob

16th Sunday

Biblical Homilies on the Sunday Gospels in Reading Year C

Martha and Mary Magdalene, by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (ca. 1598)

Bible passages


Luke 10:38-42

As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary (who) sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

Biblical Homilies


As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. (cf. Lk 10:38)

This Gospel is sometimes misunderstood, as if ministry, in this example of Martha, was not given due recognition. But it is about something else. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. Here he is coming with the disciples to this village and stops at the home of acquaintances. And Martha welcomes him kindly.

Emphasized here is that the Lord is on the way to Jerusalem. It is important for the people again and again that Jesus is allowed to stay with them and that he is received. Jesus comes here as the Lord to these brothers and sisters. If he himself comes, what else is important? Because: What is his mission? Why does he come? He does not come because he needs lunch, but he comes to find listeners to whom he can proclaim the Kingdom of God.

She had a sister named Mary (who) sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” (cf. Luke 10:39-40)

So Jesus is looking for listeners. He immediately begins to proclaim and wants to tell them something. The meal could have been prepared later. Martha, however, is so occupied by her work that she gets upset because her sister Mary just sits there and listens. She demands that Jesus rebuke her.

Two opposite behaviors are represented here, namely "listening" on the one hand and "being too busy" on the other. In the original Greek text, it is even more clearly expressed that Martha is practically looking in all directions: she has her eyes everywhere and is inwardly torn, quite restless, because she wants to listen to Jesus and Mary and work at the same time. Martha mixes everything up in such a way that in the end she cannot receive the message of Jesus.

This is a very important hint for us Christians today, who sometimes exaggerate the right and important work in the Kingdom of God to such an extent that we no longer listen to the message of Jesus. I am sometimes shocked when I see some particularly active Catholics who are involved in parish activities in all kinds of areas. But when you talk to them about the faith, you often find that they have hardly any knowledge about it. Otherwise, they live a very worldly life and cannot or do not want to understand deeper spiritual things. In such situations and conversations, I realize that by doing so much for the Kingdom of God, one blocks access to the essentials, namely to the message of Jesus, to the Word of God, and to that which constitutes spiritual life - from which ministry can come in the first place! - constitutes. Martha, however, does her ministry before she has received the Word. This juxtaposition of ‘contemplatio’ and ‘actio’ is very important: I must always receive first in order to be able to give. The Kingdom of God is about communicating grace and salvation in all of our ministries, but I can only pass on what I have received. If I myself no longer pray, I can no longer speak of God to people. Only when I myself receive from God - by being with Him, by spending time in prayer and taking time for contemplation - only then can I pass on something. Otherwise, my proclamation remains quite superficial and cannot ignite or inflame a human heart. This is the decisive juxtaposition: Martha could have listened and then prepared a meal together with her sister. But she wants to do both at the same time, and that did not work.

Mary, on the other hand, listens to Jesus completely. Before the meal is prepared, she sits at Jesus' feet like a disciple. She simply listens to his word  because that is what he came to do. Martha, however, is the contrast to Mary, who sits quietly listening at the feet of the Kyrios. Martha, as the hostess, is so busy with her work that she eventually becomes quite upset and even irritably demands of Jesus, the guest, that he "order" his listener Mary to work, which is actually very tactless of her. For Jesus has come especially to speak to them of the Kingdom of God. He wants to bring them something. That is more important to him than to get something. And now he is supposed to send away the one who responds to him. Jesus' answer is correspondingly clear.

Here, too, we should question ourselves again. I also experience again and again that such "super activists" in the Kingdom of God look down contemptuously on other Christians who also take time for prayer and contemplation and argue that one must do something in the Kingdom of God, work is also prayer, etc., but that is not how it is! Work is not prayer! If we do not pray, our work does not become prayer. However, if we take time for God, then our activities in the Kingdom of God, be it at our workplace or in our church, will be accompanied by prayer and can become an expression of love for God, i.e. a prayer. But it never replaces our time of prayer! We should always be aware of this! But here it is also very clear and evident: It is not about the contempt of the activity of the ministry of Martha. It is about her excessive concern and about the fact that she cannot hear at all, because she does not take the time for it.

The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” (cf. Luke 10:41-42)

So Jesus does not follow Martha's request to send Mary away to help her. But he speaks a very decisive and insistent word to Martha: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.” He does not devalue her action in the least, but he does not agree with the way she does it, her unnecessary and exaggerated worries. Jesus rebukes this losing oneself in so many things. He contrasts this useless multiplicity with the one thing that is necessary: to listen to the message of Jesus, to listen to God, to have time for God. That is why Jesus praises the behavior of Mary, who ”chose the better”. For in the Word of God man receives the inheritance of eternal life. Once again, it is not a matter of contrasting a better behavior with a less good one. There is nothing better than listening to the Word of the Lord because eternal life is at stake!

Let us also rethink our lives on the basis of this Gospel! Who are we with regard to the Word of God - Martha or Mary?