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‘The better part’ brings blessing into focus

As Americans, we tend to work too hard, or at least too much, often compelled by an earn-to-spend culture to buy more stuff by working for it.

Many of us seem to fall in love with work, even find our identity there. And this overwork includes the stresses of modern homemaking, too.

The work itself can take over, and seem even to substitute for love. Remember Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof"? When he asks his wife, "Do you love me?" Golda replies with a list of all the chores she does.

In the Gospel for July 17, we find this same age-old tension. Since hospitality was a serious obligation in ancient times, Martha engages in the many tasks of preparing for her guest. She expected Jesus to tell her sister to get with it and chip in. But Jesus sees the bigger, and simpler, picture.

Several years ago, television chef "The Frugal Gourmet" pointed out that the best meal to serve guests should be easy to prepare and serve. Why? Because your guests have come to visit you.

Martha’s major error was to let the work of preparation overshadow the encounter. She would have been thrilled at receiving Jesus as a guest. But she misgauged his reason for accepting the invitation.

With the best intentions, Martha was putting on a show, demonstrating her respect by serving well.

But for all her generosity and hard work, it ultimately mattered little who was there because she was focused on food. Meanwhile Mary, apparently quite adept at tuning out her sister’s complaints, simply sat and listened to Jesus.

"The better part" does not deny the "Martha" side of our lives that seeks to provide for ourselves and our families. But when, like Martha, we let anxiety over details and worry about the peripherals sidetrack us, we do so at the expense of what is important and lasting.

"The better part" is to see beyond the demands and needs of the moment with a perspective of gratitude for the blessings and gifts of our lives. Then our hospitality will become grounded in the awareness that in welcoming others, we welcome God.

 

Father Dennis Hanneman is a retired priest of the archdiocese living in Omaha. Contact him at dlhanneman@archomaha.org.

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