Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Saint Teresa of Calcutta is quoted for saying, “One of our biggest problems in the Western World is distraction”. We are easily distracted from who is necessary, God. And we end up being occupied with many gods, many things wanting to be our masters and lords. We become worshippers of three ancient gods: wealth, health and power. All three gods are very attractive, promising us a better life, a happier life. A life that is worry free, perfect and even eternal.
Unfortunately, all these gods fade away. They can’t stand the test of time. Wealth, no doubt can buy us comfort, pleasure and so on, but it still can’t give us peace, certainly not the peace that God gives. However, we spend much our time chasing and working for more money, thinking by being just a million dollars richer all shall be well. But how well is it with the very rich! Sadly, in our search for more wealth, we ignore the one thing that is necessary – to worship God.
How about health, power? Both are very good! There is no gainsaying it is good to be healthy. In fact, many of the laws in the Scriptures are about our health: mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing. God from the very beginning of creation wants us to be healthy. So, health is God’s gift to us. But isn’t it ironic that we give so much value and time to the gift, health and totally ignore the Giver, God ? Regrettably, health doesn’t last either. You can easily lose it to sickness.
Is power any different? Not at all! Today, you could be the CEO, the Bishop, the boss, and tomorrow you are literally nothing . Bishop Barron’s comment on the Wheel of Fortune is insightful, “On the top of the wheel, ‘I am King, I reign’; as the wheel turns, I soon become, ‘I was king, I used to reign’; can you see how unreliable power is?” Can you see that at the end of the day all our scheming and infighting leaves us empty, insecure and less who we truly are?
Yet, the one thing, or the One Person, that is necessary, reliable we ignore and allow ourselves to be distracted by the many things that aren’t. This is the point Jesus is making in the Gospel Reading from Luke 10:38-42. As we heard from the Gospel, “Martha was distracted with the serving”. And in her distraction, she began to lose her self-worth, and became unnecessarily anxious, “Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do the serving all by myself?”
Does this sound familiar? Yes, it does for me. I remember when I got distracted while swimming. I lost my bearing and then I began to panic. I stopped listening to my instructor. Not long after, I started sinking. To save myself, I reached out to anything I could grab. Often, this is the cycle of distraction. When we are distracted by the many things of life, we lose our true self in the process, we stop listening to the Lord and we become twisted and dysfunctional.
In a way this is the story of humanity since the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were distracted by many things. They were distracted by the sight of the forbidden fruit, “The woman saw that the fruit was good to eat, pleasant to the eyes, and desirable for gaining knowledge”. They were distracted by the promises that Satan made them, “You shall not die, for God knows that the day you eat it, your eyes will be opened, and you be like gods, knowing what is good and evil”.
From Adam to date, we continue to sink each time we get distracted and lose sight of Christ. We sink, as some of us may know, into “the Big Me Syndrome. It is all about me”. We sink into self-pity. We sink into depression. We sink into many isms. We sink into self-worship. Jesus puts it well, “Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things, yet, few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part. It is not to be taken from her”.
It is Mary who has chosen to set her priorities right. She chose to listen to the Word than to be distracted by the many voices. She chose to trust Christ, the Word of God, because by listening she came to know Him as trustworthy. She chose to allow herself to be impacted by Christ. She chose to be drawn in, to embrace the newness the Word offers. She chose to let the Word transform her words so that she can speak in a whole new way. She chose to worship the Lord.
In the words of Soren Kierkegaard, “her whole life was about One Thing, to be with the Lord”. She made the Lord the centre of life, not herself. Thus, her desires, her being, her actions, words and thoughts were all directed to the Lord. The Lord took them, as He takes the Bread and Wine we offer at every Mass; “fruit of the earth and work of human hands”, and in return He gave her Himself, which cannot be taken away from her, which inspires true hospitality.
Similarly, as we heard from the First Reading (Genesis 18:1-10) Abraham though childless didn’t allow his situation and that of his wife to distract him from doing the Lord’s will. He could have chosen to react, to blame God for his predicaments and his wife’s barrenness. After all, he is childless despite God’s promise to make his descendants as many as the stars of the sky. But he chose to “bow to the ground” in worship. What an incredible witness of true love?
Again, the words of the St. Pope John Paul II come to mind, “When we get our worship right, we get our economy, our politics, our social systems right”. Abraham worshiped rightly and as such his behaviour was rightly ordered. His actions were inspired by the God he worshiped. At the end, what he chose was not taken away from him, rather, what was lacking was provided him, “I shall visit you again next year without fail and your wife will then have a son”. What a blessing!
Fr. Francis Afu