Friday, July 15, 2016

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

The Good Part

There are moments in our life when we think that what we are doing or thinking is most important for us. When we were in school what mattered most for some of us were grades and passing our subjects. A few of us might have been tempted to cheat in order to get a passing grade. Even today for the majority of students what matters most is finishing their studies and getting a degree.

When I was still teaching in the classroom I would make a survey among my students what their goal in life was. More than half of every class where I made this survey answered that their goal in life was to finish their studies. Indeed for them at that time finishing their studies was most important.

There are other events in our life when we think one activity or situation was most important for us. A suitor thinks that what is most important in his life is being accepted by the girl he is courting. A lady thinks that what is most important in her like is getting married in church. A farmer thinks that what is most important is getting a good harvest during a particular season. A businessman thinks that what is important is getting a contract signed for a business undertaking. We can multiply these occasions in our life.

The problem with such situations is that after a certain time things look differently. The student learns later on that getting good grades is not a sure guarantee of getting a good job. He realizes that sometimes it is not what you know that counts but whom you know who can hire you, with or without a degree. The suitor realizes that the girl he is in love with has had 5 suitors already whom she took advantage of financially. The lady realizes that church wedding is not a guarantee against an abusive husband. The farmer realizes a good crop cannot take him out of debt from the middleman merchant. The businessman realizes later that the business is a scam.

To put it rather briefly there are some things in life which at the time we are in them are most important when later events tell us they were not really so.

That is the lesson we have from our Gospel reading today. Most of us will sympathize with Martha because like her we think that what is most important in Christian life is serving Jesus. To our dismay later on we may realize that this does not count as important in the mind of Jesus.

Listen to this complaint of those who thought that they served Jesus during their life. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus envisions a time when those who served him on earth would say to him: "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name? Have we not exorcised demons by its power? Did we not do many miracles in your name as well?" What was the reply of Jesus to them? He said, "Then I will declare to them solemnly, 'I never knew you. Out of my sight, you evildoers!'". (Matthew 7:22-23).

If this happens to us we would be shocked. Just imagine, we faithfully attended Mass and received communion on Sundays, we gave to the poor people who asked our help, we gave our service to the parish church where we lived. But at the end of our life, God forbid, we may hear those condemning words of the most lovable and most loving person, Jesus, saying to us: I never knew you. Out of my sight, evildoers.

Our Gospel reading makes it clear that it is not what we do for Jesus that matters but what Jesus does for us and in us. There was Martha who was busy thinking and worrying and working to serve Jesus and his disciples with a very good meal. But Jesus told her what she was doing was the least in his priority. It fact it was not his priority. And there was Mary her sister who did nothing but sat at Jesus' feet, listening to his words. And Jesus told Martha that her sister had gotten the good part, the one thing that was necessary to enjoy life in the kingdom of God here on earth and in the hereafter. This was not going to be taken away from her, Jesus commented.

This Gospel reading is a little bit difficult to understand and so translators of the passage have tried to make it understandable for us. Our reading says, "Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her". That is the revised translation of the New American Bible which we use at Mass. Before the revision this read, "Mary has chosen the better portion and she shall not be deprived of it."

I want you to focus your attention on the word "better". This is how the translators want us to understand the statement of Jesus, that Mary did something better than Martha. And this is understandable, given the context. Martha was preparing the meal. Mary was listening to Jesus. The translators would want us to understand that Mary was doing a better thing than Martha.

Unfortunately the word "better" is not in the original Greek of that passage. The word there is simply "agatheyn" which means "good." So correctly translated it can only read, "Mary chose the good part". This implies that Martha had not chosen the good part. This is made clear by Jesus himself who said that one thing was only required. Again this implies that the other thing was not required.

Here is a case where the original of the Gospel manuscript is very crucial to get the real meaning of what Jesus said. As Pope Pius XII said in his encyclical DIVINO AFFLANTE SPIRITU "In like manner therefore ought we to explain the original text which, having been written by the inspired author himself, has more authority and greater weight than any, even the very best translation, whether ancient or modern . . ." (16).
Jesus meant and still means "good" and not "better", as some translators would want us to understand. And this good was the one thing necessary.

To understand what this one thing that was necessary was, which was the thing required, we have to go to comparisons with some things in our life.

In college there are subjects called something like English 1, English 2, English 3, English 4. Some schools call this now Communication Arts. In the syllabus or list of subjects English 1 is labeled as required for English 2. If a student for some reason took English 2, 3 and 4 without taking English 1 his grades in English 2, 3, and 4 would be invalid. He is required to take English 1 to validate his grades in the succeeding subjects.

In baseball if a batter runs home without touching first base his home run is invalid or not counted. He is required to touch first base first.

In the church if a person is confirmed and receives the other sacraments without having first been baptized all the sacraments he receives are all invalid and have no effect as far as the sacraments are concerned. He is required to be baptized first.

In the same way if a person behaves like a follower of Jesus, a disciple of Jesus, but does not have this one thing that Jesus talks about his behavior has no effect as far as his or her Christian life is concerned.

And what is this one thing necessary which Mary had? It is expressed clearly in our Gospel passage: sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to his words. Jesus wants us to sit at his feet, listen to him, and allow his words to penetrate our minds and hearts so that he can live within us and through us. This is most important and this is necessary. Without this happening in our life we may be surprised to hear later on the words of Jesus that he does not know us.

Even today what Jesus desires is that we humble ourselves before him and listen to him and let his words sink in our minds and hearts. Just like what Mary the sister of Martha did.

Let us bow our heads to pray. Lord Jesus, you told us in the incident related in our Gospel passage that only one thing is necessary, is required. This is the good thing. This is humbling ourselves and listening to you. Make us do this by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

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