Choosing the Better Part | Carl E. Olson | Scriptural Reflection for Sunday, July 18, 2010, the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings:Growing up in a Fundamentalist home in a small town, I lived three blocks away from the only Catholic parish for miles around. It might as well have been hundreds of miles away since I believed that true Christianity and Catholicism were separated by a great chasm created by empty ritual, superstition, and false doctrine.
• Gen. 18:1-10a
• Psa. 15:2-3, 3-4, 5
• Col 1:24-28
• Lk. 10:38-42
Since the age of four, when I prayed for salvation, I had a personal relationship with Jesus. Yet my Catholic friends seemed to not only lack such a relationship, they seemed unaware that it existed and was waiting for them to accept it—if only they could escape the clutches of rote practices and empty beliefs.
What changed? In short, I discovered that being a Catholic was not about empty ritual and impersonal practices, but was about friendship and communion with the Triune God—even if not every Catholic appreciates or pursues that amazing gift. I began to understand, by God’s grace, these words of the Catechism: “Hence the whole Christian life is a communion with each of the divine persons, without in any way separating them” (CCC 259). And, speaking of grace, I found that grace is more than just God’s favor, but a participation in His life, which “introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life” (CCC 1997).
This came to mind as I considered today’s readings, which point to and reveal something about God’s friendship with man. In the beginning, man had been created in communion and established in friendship with his Maker. After sin had severed that intimacy, God took the initiative to do what man could not accomplish on his own: restore a right relationship between creature and Creator. The great patriarch Abraham played an essential role in that restoration, responding to God’s call and entering into a covenant establishing him as a “father of a multitude of nations” (Gen. 12-17).
Today’s reading describes Abraham being approached by three mysterious visitors. The exact relationship between the Lord (Yahweh) and the three visitors has been debated over the centuries: Was one Yahweh, and other two angels, as Genesis 19:1 seems to suggest? Or did Yahweh present Himself as three persons, foreshadowing the later revelation of the Trinity?
What is clear is that God—mysterious and beyond comprehension—somehow communed with Abraham in a way that was immediate and intimate. Fast forward to the Gospel reading and the story of Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus (cf., Jn. 11:1-12:3). Both women were friends with Jesus, who was a guest in their home. But while Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and listened intently to Him speak—literally, “listened to His word (logos)”—Martha was distracted by her household duties and responsibilities.
Upset at her sister, Martha attacked Mary and made a graceless request of Jesus: “Tell her to help me.” Jesus rebuked the harried Martha and told her that there is “need of only one thing.” That is, her concern should be to attend to her guest and to choose “the better part” by accepting Him and breathing in the word of God spoken by the greatest Prophet (cf., Lk 8:2). It is not enough to be in the room with Jesus, as Martha was; we must make room for Jesus and give Him our full attention—ourselves—as Mary did.
The reading from Paul’s letter to the Colossians explains that giving ourselves to Christ means loving His Church and suffering for both Him and His body. It is through sacrificial love that Jesus established the Church, the household of God in which we have communion with the Triune God. “This mystery of blessed communion with God and all who are in Christ,” states the Catechism, “is beyond all understanding and description” (CCC 1027).
We can be in the same room with Jesus and still be miles away. Yet we are called to sit at His feet and listen to His word. That is the one and only thing. That is choosing the better part.
[This "Opening the Word" column originally appeared in a slightly different form in the July 22, 2007, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.]