Listening As the Better Part
Fr. Phil Paxton, CP
In our Gospel reading for Sunday (Luke 10:38-42), Jesus visits Martha and her sister Mary, and while Martha is busy about being a good hostess, Mary has decided to sit down and listen to Jesus. Understandably, Martha complains about this to Jesus, but He replies, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”
Over the years, when I have reflected on this passage and shared my reflections with others, I have tried to remember that Jesus is not speaking against doing things. He often calls us elsewhere in the Gospels to reach out to others. But in light of the rhetoric going on in our political arena, where people veer (maybe careen?) into bigotry and self-righteousness, I wonder if listening is the “better part” right now.
I know how important listening is to doing ministry. Right now, Fr. Pat, Faith, and Fr. Enno are finalizing plans for the retreat season at St. Paul’s, which starts in September. Planning for the retreats always involve what we hear from retreatants and what we hear from the Holy Spirit. As I get ready to move to Birmingham, AL, I have to remind myself that I cannot assume things are the same as they were when I left there nine years ago. Just as I knew that I needed to take time to listen to people then, I need to take time to listen to people now.
In Matthew 25, when Jesus talks about the day of judgement and speaks about people on His right and on His left, and says to the righteous, “I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink,” and so on, I wonder if He might also say today, “I cried out and you heard me.” Or to put it in terms of what we heard last week about the greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbor, perhaps we could see that part of fulfilling that commandment is to really listen. We listen to God in prayer and we listen to each other.
Of course, this listening has to be translated into action, which is also necessary to fulfill the commandment to love. What’s remarkable is that when we do the actions of love, we are continuing to listen. When we volunteer at a food pantry or soup kitchen or St. Vincent De Paul, or any other kind of community service, we are put in the position of listening. God is speaking to us through those in need, or those pushed to the margins of society. In fact, we are called to open our ears and our hearts to the “groaning” of all creation.
Although Martha’s work was seen to be necessary, her anxiety and busyness prevented her from listening to Jesus. May we not be so set in our attitudes, or so deluded by worldly wisdom, that we’ve become incapable of listening to God and to each other. My we choose the “better part” in order to do what God calls us to do.
I welcome any comments or questions. Thanks for your time.