Action and contemplation go together like hand in glove

By Glen Argan

Perhaps it is coincidence that St. Luke chose to relate the story of Mary and Martha immediately following the parable of the good Samaritan. But I don’t think so. Rather, Luke wants us to know that holy actions find their origin in holy meditation.

The parable is a story of action, of a Samaritan traveller serving as a neighbour to a man beat up by robbers and left for dead in a ditch. Jesus slyly jabs at the lawyer who devotes his hours to interpreting the law, rather than living it.

In the story of the two sisters, Martha is the thoroughly modern person who is distracted, focused on “many tasks.” Jesus proclaims that it is Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to him speak, who “has chosen the better part.” Has Jesus changed his mind regarding the priority of meditation and action?

First, we should dispose of the notion that the lawyer was primarily concerned with God’s word. He was, as the story goes, “wanting to justify himself.” Mary, however, showed no indication of wanting to justify herself. Nor do we have reason to believe that she was normally a slacker around the household.

Wouldn’t we love to be in her place? Of all the hundreds of millions of people who have tried to follow Jesus over two millennia, Mary is one of only a tiny number who received the gift of hearing the Word of God directly from God’s Son. She saw and heard Jesus face to face.

Mary is the embodiment of the first psalm which proclaims that happy are those whose “delight is in the law of the Lord…. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season.”

We too have the opportunity, if not to meditate on God’s word day and night, to meditate for at least some time every day. We don’t need Jesus nearby to speak his word; it is readily available to all in the Bible. How often do we avail ourselves of that opportunity?

So if Mary has chosen “the better part,” what of the good Samaritan? A little further on in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus gives the answer: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” (11.28) The “best part” is to be both a hearer of the word and a doer of the word – to meditate on God’s word and to live it out in our daily milieu.

The encounter with Jesus happens through word and sacrament. If that encounter is real, our actions will be transformed by God’s love. We will be vessels of love to the world around us.

Sunday readings for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 21, 2019
Genesis 18.1-10 | Psalm 15 | Colossians 1.24-28 | Luke 10.38-42

(See more articles like this at On the Threshold,)

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