Sunday, July 17, 2016

Why is it better?

In today's gospel we see Martha and Mary, a very familiar story. Often we will talk about the need to imitate both and the need for proper balance. But it is not about balancing two equally valuable choices, the active and the contemplative. Jesus does say that Mary has chosen the better part.  To this, the Marthas in the group always say, "if we all followed Mary's example, we would starve."  

They miss the point. This gospel is not about the mundane practicalities. This gospel is addressing a deeper reality, the essence of love. 

The Greek language has four words for love. Martha is the example of philia. We can think of this a horizontal love, person to person, love between equals. It's Barney the dinosaur, "I love you, you love me..."

Mary is the example of agape (in Latin caritas). As St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us, it is "the friendship of man for God", which unites us to God". It is that vertical love that reaches up toward God. As Jesus reminds us, this unity with God is the one thing that is needed. From it will flow everything else. 

Agape will always lead to philia. But philia does not necessarily lead to agape. Sometimes people reach philia and stop, they are good kind people. But that is not enough. To be part of the kingdom you have to have agape, love of God, the hunger for oneness with God. 

Martha is so close, literally, she is running all around God. Jesus is, after all, God. But she is too busy to stop and enter into a personal relationship with God. Mary has indeed chosen the proper  starting point. She sits in awesome silence in the presence of God. Will she at the appropriate time act? of course. But first she must love God. 

We tend to measure life and value by accomplishment. What did I get done today?  This gospel reminds us that action for the Christian must be grounded in a love of God; not some actions, but all our actions. God must be the starting point of every day of our life.