Christianity is about being generous
By Father Paul Turner
Catholic Key Scripture Columni
The Good News for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 11, 2004
and the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 18, 2004
Jesus will have some explaining to do. The Last Judgment is intended to put humankind on trial for our actions, but a lot of women intend on that day to put Jesus on trial for his behavior in the home of Martha and Mary.
This story will resound in our churches next weekend (Luke 10:38-42). Jesus stopped by the home of Martha and her sister Mary. Martha got busy. So busy, she was "burdened with much serving." Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and listened to him speak. Or, from Martha's perspective, Mary sat down and did nothing.
We get the impression Martha had this problem before. She did not say, "Mary, could you give me a hand?" She knew that would go nowhere. So she appealed to Jesus, her guest. "Don't you care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me."
Now, Jesus had several options here. He could have agreed with Martha and asked Mary to lend a hand. Or he could have gotten up, apologized for his inattention, and asked, "What can I do to help?"
But he said something else. His response has angered many a homemaker, volunteer and dedicated employee who now call themselves Marthas, as though they were a renegade group growing stronger in numbers, lying in wait for the chance to show who's boss - perhaps at the Last Judgment, when Jesus will trot out all their past misdeeds. Perhaps then they'll unveil this sneaky weapon from their arsenal with defiance: "Wait a minute. What about that time Martha needed help to get dinner on the table? Where were you?" When Martha felt alone, Jesus said one of the worst things you could possibly say to someone who was knocking herself out to take care of you, and who just asked for a little assistance. He said no.
This story, one of the least loved in the Gospels, is preceded by one of the most loved. The story of the Good Samaritan has contributed a term to modern languages. We all admire the person who comes from nowhere, a perfect stranger, who sees a need, takes a risk and helps. Once in a while we become a Good Samaritan, but more often we receive from one.
This weekend we celebrate the birth of our nation with a reminder that greatness lies in service (Luke 10:25-37).
A scholar in the law picks a fight with Jesus. "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus elicits this response from him: Love God and your neighbor. Luke's Gospel does not separate these into two great commandments. It treats them as one great commandment. The scholar, avoiding love of his neighbor Jesus, tries to one-up the Son of God. "Who is my neighbor?"
Jesus responds with one of his most eloquent parables. A man fell victim to robbers. Two religious leaders of Israel saw him and walked by, doing nothing. A Samaritan came upon the victim, was moved with compassion, approached him, treated his wounds, carried him to safety and paid his accommodations. The hero of the story represents a people hostile to Jesus' ministry, worshiping at Mount Gerizim instead of Mount Zion, and interpreting Scriptures differently. This outsider is the hero who takes a risk and heaps charity upon a stranger ignored by people who should have known better.
The parable answers the scholar's question, "Who is my neighbor?" But it scores an additional point. The answer is, "Everyone is your neighbor." But making this story about the Samaritan, not about the victim, Jesus says the real neighbor is the one who cares, not the one who needs attention. Your neighbor is not the neighbor. You are the neighbor. Christianity is not about limiting charity, but about being generous.
So, what's up with that scene at Martha's? How could Jesus, who just told the story of the Good Samaritan, himself ignore the needy Martha?
Both these stories fit together. Action is necessary for the Christian life, but so is contemplation. If you are too busy with the cares of the world, you will not take time to listen to Jesus in Scripture and in prayer. If you answer cell phones during meetings, read the bulletin during the homily, and work through the hours when your kids would like to play, you need to hear the Martha story, painful as it is. You cannot give what you do not have. You must have Christ to be Christ.
Father Paul Turner is the pastor of St. Munchin Parish in Cameron.