Reflection on 16th Sunday: 21 July 2019

Only One Thing

Unfortunately, today’s gospel story has often suffered from dubious interpretations, with Martha becoming the poster child for all that is imperfect with the life of busyness, the implication being that this life is inferior to a perfect life of contemplation. Most of us want to defend Martha probably because we have been in similar situations and can identify with her. The way in which she spoke to Jesus reveals her feelings of resentment, perhaps her own martyr complex, her need to be appreciated, needed and loved. Martha was everything good and right, but she was not present. This kind of goodness does little good! Distracted by her feelings, she couldn’t possibly have been fully present to herself and to the many tasks involved in the meal preparation. If she was not present to herself, Martha could not be present to her guests in any healing way, and spiritually speaking, she could not even be present to God. How we are present to anything is how we can be present to God, to ourselves, to loved ones, to everyone.

While we might distinguish between Mary and Martha there is a common theme: presence. “Only one thing is necessary,” Jesus says. The real gift is to be happy and content, even when we are doing the ‘nothingness’ of a chore, a repetitive task, or silent prayer. We can experience the ‘one thing’ whether we are sitting at the feet of the sage or engaged in service in the kitchen, or wherever we finds ourselves.

The presence of God is infinite, everywhere and forever. We cannot not be in the presence of God. There’s no other place to be. It is we who are not present to Presence. We’ll make any excuse to be somewhere else than right here. Right here, right now never seems enough. It actually is, but it is we who are not aware of that yet. Presence lies at the heart of life, prayer, and relationships. All spiritual teaching—this is not an oversimplification—is about how to be present to the moment. When we are present, we will experience the Presence.

Various sources: M. Marsh, J.Osten, R.Rohr