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Sixteenth Sunday – Ordinary Time Cycle C

Reflecting on Genesis 18:1-10, Luke 10:38-42


Christ in the house of Martha and Mary by Jan Vermeer

 There is so much to notice in this story, but my eye keeps going back to Abraham, sitting in the entrance of that hot tent in the heat of the day.  And here is what keeps catching my eye:  Looking up, Abraham saw three men standing nearby.

He was sitting, looking out at the endless, silent desert.  He must have been able to see miles ahead, and the approach of three strangers could have been observed for hours before they arrived outside his tent.  But, no, he looked up and saw them. No camels kicking up telltale dust three hours earlier.  No neighboring Bedouins calling out that strangers were coming.  He looked up, and there they were.

Is it possible that those three “men”―the angels posted with God to announce the birth of Isaac―had been standing at the entrance to Abraham’s tent from the beginning of time? What great cloud of witnesses surrounds us, waiting for us to look up and see?  What miracles hover near us, waiting for us to notice?

Which brings us back to the Gospel today.  Mary looked up and saw Jesus in her home, and she never took her eyes off of him. She showed the greatest hospitality by making room for him in her soul and spirit― by truly seeing who it was who was sent to her, and never leaving his side.  She teaches us the meaning of the mystic’s sense of prayer:

Prayer is gazing at God, who is gazing at you.

Sharing God’s Word at Home

Do you think you have ever encountered an angel?

 What would YOU like to say about this question, or today’s readings, or any of the columns from the past year? The sacred conversations are setting a Pentecost fire! Register here today and join the conversation.

I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish it were already burning (Lk.12:49).

Ordinary Time - Cycle C

19 Comments to “Sixteenth Sunday – Ordinary Time Cycle C”

  1. The story of Martha and Mary is dear to my heart. and it brings me many questions as well. About to year ago a nephew of mine was teasing me about something, I think it was something offensive about my faith, if I remember right, and my reply was “I’ll let you know after I have talked it over with God!” he really got mad and said to me “God ain’t everything Auntie!” Little did he realize that for me God is everything, and yet may be he did. If I could just be sitting at The Lord’d feet, taking His goodness all in, I would be about the happiest person alive on earth or in Heaven. I spent so many years running away from Him, that now I crave a deeper closeness to Him. There isn’t anyone or anything more important Now the question I alway ask is the when the Bible says prayer without works is empty, wasn’t Martha working and serving the Lord, she was reaching out for a little help as we all do from time to time, and the Lord said Mary had pick the better (worship over service) this mixes me up which way is it, sever and aid our brothers and sisters for the service and love of our Lord or worship and let the work go? So many time I have been like the Martha’s of this live and stressed when I’ve saw so much to do and no help in sight. That if Jesus had said this to me I would have felt hurt and angery. I can remember a few times when I would be cleaning house and my sibs would be messing up right behind me, and my feeling was you ungreatful brats. So yeah, my heart goes out to Martha the worker.

  2. I had the privilege of first meeting you at a retreat at IMH. Seeing you again today reminded me that I wanted to do something about hearing more from you. You have a way of resonating with me, so I registered.


  3. The gospels in the last few weeks are filled with lessons on discipleship. Hearing/reading them from the safe vantage of our long familiarity with the passages makes it easy to miss how radical and difficult the challenges are. We heard Christ’s instruction to “let the dead bury the dead” in the same week I was sharing the pain of my good friend who was spending the last precious moments with her father; he died days later. What a terrible sacrifice Jesus’ demand becomes in the face of real family devotion and grief and the need to support each other. 

    And what of the story of the Samaritan? It’s easy to say, “Yes, of course everyone is my neighbor” but if we look with honesty at ourselves, we find that in the very act of identifying with any community – faith, nation, family, neighborhood, Facebook networks even – we create a boundary that makes everyone else “other” in our minds and heart. In that act lies the dangerous seed of justifying different treatment to anyone who falls outside of these circles of identity. Transcending that temptation is surely one of the most radical of all calls to conversion and discipleship, and one of the most difficult. 

    And now today’s readings, which are a mess of contradiction at first glance. First we see Abraham as a positive example of hospitality, and it seems like he too was busy about so many things (mostly lighting a fire under a bunch of other people, to tell the truth). But when poor Martha does the same and has the audacity to complain about her sister, she gets the holy slap down. Again, our reflex is to say that of course listening at Jesus’ feet is the better part, but who else was going to prepare the meal and care for the followers who surely accompanied our Lord into the home of Martha and Mary? Perhaps the challenge is to know that attentive listening to the Teacher can and must lead to service and action after we make the time to really hear his Word. We know how the story continues for both of these women, models of faith and discipleship, so I like to believe the next words from Jesus to Martha were something like: “Come, sit with me to hear the good news! Rest from your toils on my behalf!”    

  4. I am always a little nervous when I hear this Gospel reading (can you tell that I tend to identify with Martha a bit?) because I think that sometimes it is too easy to draw a black and white line saying that she is “wrong” and Mary is “right.” Surely we realize, that there must be workers. Christ himself calls for laborers to send into the fields. I was so excited to share part of the homily that our deacon gave on this site . . .it was perfect and so inline with what I think this site aims to do.

    Deacon George talked about the need for the “story!” Martha’s serving wasn’t bad, but she was rushing about trying to prepare the perfect meal when the real “Meal” was sitting in her midst. The people who were there, didn’t need a meal at that point because they were sitting with the Bread of Life. What they needed, what Martha needed and was neglecting, was the STORY.

    Abraham too, rushes about to prepare a meal and show hospitality to his guests–he is working–but when the preparation is done, he has the wisdom to sit and listen to the story that they have to offer about his future.

    This homily resonated so strongly with me, especially as I listen to the news and see the incredible need in our world. We need workers for the Gospel in a BIG way. There is so much to be done for human rights, for human dignity . . . that we can’t possibly think we need ONLY to sit at Jesus feet and worship. But if we rush about working, good as our intentions may be, but forget WHY we work, forget WHOM we serve, forget the STORY, we work in vain. We need to be be Mary and Martha. How much more powerful would our work be if we spent an hour in adoration before our endeavors–just listening to the Bread of Life remind us of our story? The end of the story is beautiful–we know the ending–we just need to help write the chapters in between!

  5. PS–For all you other Martha’s out there, there is a great book by Joanna Weaver called “Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World: Finding Intimacy with God in the Busyness of Life.” It is funny, tender, practical. I loved it!

  6. What wonderful “letters”!! I learn so much from reading the thoughts and interpretations of others.

    Yesterday morning I attended 7:30 Mass. A first for me. I
    had a friend request that I attend this Mass and then come to her home to have breakfast with her and some friends. As
    we all arrived…almost at the same time…along with our hostess; there was a great deal of scurrying around to get
    all the food set out and coffee brewing. Amid all the apologies for “I’m so sorry that everything is not ready”;
    I reflected last night…what a GREAT time we were having
    in preparation. I remembered: My aunts, grandparents, my mom’s kitchens were the hub of all good things. I thought back to when my children were growing up…up to my wrists in mashed potatoes! laughter…”just a bite, mom”..tall tales being told…inclusive of me…”don’t you dare put your finger in that!” “no, you cannot have any…have to
    wait until the meal is served”; “mom, this needs more…more
    something! Dear Lord…the quandry of “WHAT?”..and more and more sampling. And, at the table…when everything was finally prepared,”Mom, you’re not eating much.” How could I
    eat…I’d sampled my way through every dish to find the missing “more of something”!! Why am I sitting here with tears? My family is pretty much gone; my children are all grown. The kitchen…where in the preparing of food; sometimes love is at its best; wounded spirits are forgotten;and thankfulness ,however brief, abides. As I reflect on my past; I kinda wish that maybe Jesus and Mary might have gone into the kitchen to be with Martha…good food, good conversation, the intimacy of friendship…all shared in the heart of any home…the kitchen.

  7. I love these readings because they really do teach us the importance of hospitality and of Presence…both are necessary for us to know God and to be God to one another. Thank you Jen for the reminder to pay attention to those times when we are “with the Bread of Life” and when we are called to be “Bread for the world.” These are liflelong lessons, finding that balance between “doing” and “being”… Sometimes we do it well, other times we are gently reminded to lift up our heads and “look up” as Kathy said… Through the abundance of God’s love and presence we are always given another opportunity to pay better attention ~ Thank you God!

  8. My dearest Kathy,

    It was a joy and an honor to see you yesterday at 6PM mass at IHM. You are an inspiration to me and I pray that I will get to heaven so I can spend more time with you! Please give my deepest regards to Ben and let him know that you both have left a big imprint on my heart. I know I have seen an angel-you Kathy!

    All my love and many hugs,
    Dianna de Cordoba

  9. Dearest friends,

    Can you imagine what a thrill it is for me to log on to this site and see your insightful, rich reflections? This is EXACTLY what I had hoped would happen here, in fact you have surpassed my dreams.

    Don’t you find that as you write about the stories—as Jen said, as we are reminded of the Story—the Story catches fire and starts to come up more and more in your spirit and daily prayer throughout the week? This bond of friendship and sacred conversation that we are building here will without doubt become a roaring fire that spreads around the world. I absolutely believe that.

    So thank you, all of you beloved. Be sure to read all the comments that have been posted here this week. They are so wise and beautiful and rich.

    I wish I could respond to each individual comment, but Becky, and Jim, and Michael, and Jen, and Claudia, and Karen, and Dianna, and all who will respond later this week, please accept my deepest gratitude for making this site the most eloquent and insightful sacred conversation on the Web.

    So go out and be busy about many things. It’s clear that you’ve mastered the art of sitting at the feet of Jesus.

    Always, always—


  10. This has always been a favorite story for me since we daily try to find the balance between contemplation and action. I think the Jesuits have a good take on this when they aspire to be “Contemplatives in Action”. Perhaps the key is to make sure our actions are coming from the discernment of God’s will and not for our own glory. You might want to check out Fr. Mark Thibodeux’s book “Armchair Mystic” for further reflection on this story.

    Thanks for the wonderful thoughts!

    Chad Roeber
    Carbondale, CO

  11. I’m sitting here waiting for the phone to ring….my employer called early this morning and asked for a stay of a few hours before I go over to his home to work.

    I decided to check out emails and found Kathy’s note. I want to take this moment to thank MichaelCarlos…who has the most beautiful name! for his comments to one of my writings,interpretations…several writings ago. I wanted to thank you at that very reading, Michael; but, being so new to this site, I wasn’t certain how to conduct myself.I wasn’t certain about whether we could engage in “conversation” with one another…..Your thoughts do not go into a “hole” or void. You write so well and seem to have wonderful insight into the verses that Kathy shares each week. I have been taken aback by EVERYONE’S insight into the weekly scriptures…so many deep and meaningful thoughts. I do not want to be remiss in saying that I read everything and appreciate all of you who take the time to write. I’m still learning. I may have misinterpreted HOW to respond to the scriptures. I think that I took the title, THE STORY AND YOU…quite literal…the YOU…and imposed that, within my own thinking, to mean how I reflect in a personal way to the readings and then add my own intepretation. I don’t seem to be as literate and knowledgeable as most all of you. But, then, maybe this is the beauty of interpretation….that it is personal.

    I HOPE that this comes out LOOKING decent. I’m rather aghast when everything seems to have such conformity when I’m writing and the “final copy” is strewn all over the place!!

    Let me never take anything or anyone for granted! Be patient with my writings; and, thank you for yours.

    Kathy…just not suficient words for you. In this confusing world, you offer solace. Thank you.

  12. The Gospel reading for this Sunday always leaves me feeling divided and a little resentful of the idea that Martha is somehow wrong in serving rather than sitting at the feet of Jesus. I can’t imagine serving and sitting as opposites, but in some way, paradoxically I imagine them to be the same.

    I am an oldest child and it is pretty evident that Martha is too. She serves while her little sister, and I imagine her brother Lazarus sit with Jesus. Who is the sister that seems to be in charge when Lazarus has died? It is obviously Martha. We oldest children have been given the role of care taking for the younger ones. It is inbred for us.

    But I find that when I serve homeless seniors dinner, or pack a lunch for my daughter, or listen to one of my students, that I am serving the Lord Jesus. I hear him speak, as my daughter chats away, or one as my friends at the Senior Center tells me about his current struggles. Serving IS sitting at the feet of Jesus. Serving is attention to the Lord.

  13. Rita, thank you!

  14. Okay, so it looks like we have LOTS of older children wanting to defend Martha this week. Thank God for the older siblings in families who make things work. Thanks, too, for Chad and Jen’s book suggestions on action and contemplation.

    I’ve often fantasized about the following scenario: Jesus tells Martha she’s busy about many things, Martha puts down her potato peeler and enjoys a fascinating and prayerful hour at the feet of Jesus. Around 6pm Jesus turns to her and says, “By the way, what’s for dinner?” and she looks around as if he must be addressing someone else in the room, shrugs and says, “Beats me”.

    That’s the end that I like imagining, but Richard Rohr says that then all four of them (I’m talking to you, Lazarus)went into the kitchen and chopped up the veggies for dinner.

    After all, even getting dinner started at 6pm couldn’t have taken as long as it took to get that big steer in the oven for Abraham’s guests.

    Thanks, everyone, for listening to each other so prayerfully. And for not giving anyone, as Michael says, the “holy slapdown.” Hate when that happens.

  15. I only have a little revelation to share from Martha and Mary. This time of reading it has brought home something again that God has been trying to show me for a long time. This is what I saw this time about me: It’s not that I felt that everything Martha was doing didn’t SEEM necessary and important. But she was missing the forest for the trees. And I do it too. But God wants me to slow down and listen for His presence always. Then hopefuly, I will learn in tme where He leads. I have to learn to trust that what appears to be the right thing to do may not be where God is. It’s tricky…

    When my husband and I are taking care of my grandson for a weekend, often I feel like there is so much that has to be done; cooking. laundry, straightening up, etc. Later my husband will say, “He REALLY loves it when you play with him…” It’s true; there is something, well, special and unique that transpires when we play…moments that will never be repeated.

    Our minds can ask, if Martha hadn’t done all that work, who would have fed Jesus? But as in the story of the Loaves and Fish, God always has a plan.

    God wants me to listen for His presence, not just in prayer, but all the time, so I’ll know where He truly is calling me at any given moment.

    I wonder how Martha remembers Jesus’ words to her at her home after he died…did she wish he would walk in to her home again as an unexpected guest, so that she could savor his presence?

  16. Thank you everyone for your insights! I learn so much hearing from other people.
    People for years have been discussing the Gospel story of Martha & Mary. Some people wonder is Jesus favoring the comtemplative life vs. service?
    I think that Jesus was saying to Martha, put away the anxiety of this world. (don’t worry) Trust me everything is going to be ok.
    I think of this often, especially @ the Easter Vigil when I am worried about the catechmens arriving on time, remembering what they are supposed to do etc. I hear Jesus saying to me “why are you anxious, trust me”

    Reading the beautiful story of the Good Samaritan, I am reminded again that I have to trust that salvation is coming down the road, I have no control over who God will send. I, like the beaten man, am rescued in a way that I never anticipated (or maybe don’t even want)
    Jesus keeps saying “Trust Me” then I say like Thomas, My Lord, and my God”.

    Denver, Co

  17. You know, after reading all the way we feel about this reading, it appears that was our Lord’s way of reminding us there is an importance in balance. It is like when Jesus said THE Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath. We do forget to balance our lives and make room for all God’s gifts. Many years ago I was very active in a Denver Parish, I was so active I forgot why I was being active. I made myself busy with being a part of everything. everything but worship. And I fell away and lost my faith my life was not balanced. If we listen very close to the reading we can hear Him say “Martha it okay to take a break and keep me company. And some we will eat and finish the tasks. The roof will not fall in if dinner is late and the floors arent swept.” See I am the Martha as I said earlier this week, I want to work for Heaven, we sometimes think Heaven is has the price of sweat and toil. But without worship it is empty. I want to thank everyone who reminded me of the Martha I was all work and no faith.

  18. I’ve been thinking about those angels and wondering if maybe they came just to tell “good news,” without expecting a feast. I know that it was part of desert hospitality to supply food and drink, to take care of the needs of travelers. Abraham does exactly that. He is described as a most gracious host. I’ve been there, done that. Here’s the question: was the announcement of a son a reward or was it the purpose of the angels’ visit? Would God have promised Sarah’s pregnancy just because God wanted to give and assure the fulfillment of the covenant made long before?
    God’s messengers were about to speak of a miracle. Like Martha, Abraham had to do something. It gives me pause and causes me to ask myself if there are times when I interrupt the proclamation of “good news” because I have to do something first. As if I were in charge, I have to set the stage, create the environment, offer the first gift, out do God. What if I could just listen (like Mary) to the Word God speaks and then respond? Would standing in awe and marveling at the blessing that has come my way be enough? Or would I still have to rush around and make something happen?
    Just in case, I’ve decided to take a moment before I act and see if there’s an angel standing in front of me ready to speak “good news.”

  19. What wonderful comments, I have always had an issue with this, the time and place that this took place hospitality was very important, I think it still is to some extent in this area. How could Martha not be doing the “right thing” Jesus was in her house, she was the eldest and it wouldn’t be right not to serve him? I deal with this everytime we hear this Gospel. Do you think that Jesus was telling Martha that it would be OK if she took time to pray and listen to him and that dinner would be served a little late, or that after he finished both Martha and Mary could finish and get on with the meal (maybe even with a little help from the men!)? It is hard for all of us to take the time and sit at Jesus’ feet and listen, after all there is so much that needs to get done, but when we do we are all the better for it. I have even been know to say to myself “oh my gosh, I forgot to pray” and run to my special spot and have some “quiet time” as my husband calls it. Good idea, I think I’ll do that now.

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