Sunday Sermon for July 21, 2013, the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Readings: Gen 18:1-10a; Col 1:24-28; Lk 10:38-42

In the Gospel reading today we hear about Martha and Mary. In this passage Martha approaches Jesus and asks Him to tell her sister to help her with the various tasks that needed to be done. Jesus points out that Mary, who had been sitting at our Lord’s feet, had chosen the better part and it would not be taken from her.

There are many interesting interpretations of this passage that have arisen over the years. However, for our purposes today we need to be clear that Jesus was not condemning Mary for her serving. In what is admittedly a different context, our Lord tells us that He came into this world to serve, not to be served. To this day, when we have guests in the house we recognize a necessity to serve those people. This hospitality was and continues to be extremely important in the Middle East.

In the first reading we have a glimpse of what kind of priority was given to the service of guests. Abraham notices three men walking past his tent; he runs over to them and asks them to stay while he prepares a meal for them, provides some water for their feet and some shade under which they can rest and enjoy their meal. As we hear about Abraham running around to get everything ready, we have to remember that he was ninety-nine years old at the time.

We also see in this story the need of receiving the hospitality. In our day, we would think that if someone stops by unexpectedly, they either would not assume they would be fed, or they would allow for something quick. In the case of Abraham, we hear about making rolls, slaughtering a calf and preparing it, getting some milk and curds. The mild and curds may have been fairly quick to obtain, but the others would require a substantial amount of time before they could be served. These men waited until the meal was placed before them.

With this as part of the cultural norm, Jesus would certainly not have chastised Martha for her acts of charity. Instead, what He is condemning is the fact of Martha drawing attention to herself. Remember, our Lord taught us to keep our deeds of charity secret, and our Father, Who sees what is secret will repay us. Martha, falls into the same condemnation as the hypocrites our Lord speaks of who like to blow a trumpet before them so that everyone sees what they are doing. He points of that the attention they receive is all the reward they are going to get.

When we consider all of this, we have to ask what our Lord expects of us. He expects that we will serve, that we will accept the charity of others when they serve, and that we will do everything with humility and love. This is what we see St. Paul doing as he speaks of rejoicing in his sufferings because he is completing the sufferings of Christ and offering them for the sake of others. This was our Lord’s ultimate service to us and we are granted the grace to participate this service.

Of course, like St. Paul, we have to allow our Lord to serve us before we can serve others in this manner. St. Paul reminds us that it is Christ Whom he proclaims. In other words, he is not drawing people to himself. Even though he shares in our Lord’s sufferings, it is the Lord’s and not St. Paul’s. So it is with us. We are given this gift to be part of our Lord’s service, but we have to get the focus off of ourselves because it is Christ’s sufferings and offer the sufferings so that people will be brought to Jesus, not to ourselves.

So, we who have in so many ways lost the concept of service and hospitality, need to learn it because we are members of Christ Who came to serve. Martha and Mary welcomed Jesus into their home. Are we willing to welcome Him into our hearts? Are we willing to serve Him there? Sometimes that service will means sitting quietly and listening to Him. At other times is will mean performing some tasks that He inspires us to do. Still other times, it will mean accepting a share in His sufferings for the sake of souls.

We have received His charity so that our sins are forgiven, we are redeemed and our souls can be saved. There are countless souls around us who do not know our Lord or what He has done for them. Having received, it is now our turn to give. Serve Jesus by serving others, in whatever capacity He asks of you. For each of us, this is choosing the better part.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit