How do we know what is important in our lives? We either allow things to affect us, and then decide which choice would be the least problematic. OR, we choose what we will do, and that choice will generally guide the directions that we are likely to take.
What is it then? ALLOW or CHOOSE? The former basically passive, the latter basically active. I would recommend “choice” because that would mean having responsibility for the outcome from the beginning.
Let me explain. We look at the Gospel for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, “the Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37), and the Gospel for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, “Martha and Mary” (Luke 10:38-42).
In the Gospel of the Good Samaritan, both the priest and levite, who work in the Temple, appeared to be so bound to their tasks that when they came across the wounded stranger on the road, they passed him by. This was their priority, their choice.
However, the Samaritan (no friend of the Jews), was on the same road, most likely on the way to do business. But he noticed the injured man on the road and stopped to help him. What was important to him was helping a needy person, pointing out that anyone in trouble (even a foreigner) was his neighbor. What was important to the Samaritan at that moment was the injured person needing his help, and not his job.
In the Gospel about Martha and Mary, it is Martha who is “busy about many things” and asks Jesus to tell Mary to help her prepare the meal. Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to him. Then Jesus says something that strikes many as being rather odd. “…Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)
What did Jesus mean by this? What is the “better part” that Mary has chosen? I strongly suspect that the answer lies in what the Gospel tells us Mary was doing. She chose to listen to what Jesus was saying. “Listening” is the better part of dialogue, because without listening there is always the danger of misunderstanding what is being told.
So, then Jesus meant that listening to him in order to understand his message, was better than worrying about keeping busy. In the case of the “good Samaritan,” the priest and levite chose to maintain their business activities over the welfare of the wounded victim. Whereas the Samaritan chose to help the wounded victim over his business ventures. The choice that was made was what was what they considered important. Busy things or helping needy people.
In the situation of Martha and Mary a similar thing happened. Martha apparently chose keeping busy than listening to Jesus, which is what Mary was doing. I don’t mean to infer that being hospitable is a bad thing. Quite the opposite. It seems to me that Jesus accepted the invitation for a meal to illustrate a much deeper point. Namely, that people tend to be so busy that they don’t have time to listen to Jesus’s message.
What was Jesus’ message? Promote justice, manifest compassion, be forgiving, help the powerless, and every gesture he performed in the Gospels toward others. Apparently, it was not important to the priest and the levite, but it was to the Samaritan. Unwittingly perhaps (force of habit?), Martha was too busy to listen, and Mary was not.
How can we “listen” to Jesus? Ultimately, it will be a choice that we have to make. Basically, it will be reading and reflecting on the Bible. A sure sign of our “listening” is doing the things Jesus said for us to do: justice, compassion; forgiveness; understanding, and ultimately, seriously caring for out neighbor. If we do this, then we will have done what is truly important to us–and to others as well.