Proper 11, Sunday 17 July 2022
The Liturgy has two parts: the Word, and the Holy Eucharist. Two things happen in worship:
1) God speaks to us. Many of us have questions in life, and some are in need of answers to some of our questions. If we will only come to God with an open heart, He will speak to us.
2) We meet Christ in the Eucharist.
We need God more
After the last two years’ events, I have realised that I need God even more. There were many lessons to learn from the pandemic. The adverse effects included an increased divorce rate and emotional difficulties; however, some people learned to take care of each other. During the war, some countries have opened their borders and some people have opened their homes to those who are displaced. Unfortunately, sometimes such things have to happen for good to come.
Now there are predictions of economic recession. Let us be wise in handling our finances and trust the Lord to provide for us all. If you trust God and follow His ways and you are a giver, you don’t need to fear. If prices increase, so will His provision.
Rather than asking, “Why is God allowing all these things to happen?” I’m realising that I need God all the more. Some people today believe a man can become pregnant: the world is losing its sense of direction, and is moving ancient boundaries, which is very dangerous. There is insanity, and we need God’s guidance: We need God to give us a sense of direction with which to navigate through this ever-changing world.
Fashioned by our choices
Anne Frank[i] said,
“Our lives are fashioned by our choices. First we make choices, then our choices make us.”
Every day we’re faced with many choices in life. To go to church is a choice we must make. God never uses coercion or forces anyone to do anything. When Jesus talked to two criminals, He never forced anyone to come with Him: when one believed in Him, He said, “You will be with Me in Paradise”. Your life is where it is now because of a series of choices you have made, whether good or bad. Someone once told me I had become lucky in life; but I told her I’d chosen to follow and serve God, and what she saw was the fruit – not the result of chance. We cannot blame anyone for our choices, and God will not stop us from making wrong choices. He prefers us to choose life; but if we choose death, there’s nothing He can do about it.
Choosing to love God
Besides hospitality – opening our homes and our lives to Jesus Christ – today’s Gospel tells us that choosing is very important. This story follows the Good Samaritan because of the “Shema Israel”: the story of the Good Samaritan shows us that we should love our neighbour; and today’s Gospel, that we should love God.
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbour as yourself.’”[ii]
The word “strength” here means wealth – everything you have.
Jesus was a good friend of Martha and Mary. He was in Bethany, about 3km east of Jerusalem, and entered their house. His presence brought two different responses from the two sisters:
- Mary assumed the position of a disciple, sitting at the Lord’s feet. Her focus was on listening to Him; she wanted to learn and hear the Master’s voice. She did exactly what was said at the Transfiguration: “Listen to Him!” She realised that the blessed opportunity was to hear for her life what the Master had to say.
- Martha, on the other hand, was concerned about hospitality, and she was burdened and distracted on account of much serving – although it’s not wrong to serve God. This may have taken place during the Feast of Tabernacles; if so, she was preparing a festive meal, and much work had to be done in the kitchen. Martha was anxious, annoyed, irritated; she turned to Jesus and said, “I need a lot of help, and Mary isn’t doing anything. Why don’t you tell her to help me?”
Martha chose to be distracted and to ensure the family was hospitable because the Master was there; but Mary sat at the feet of Jesus. To sit at someone’s feet is to be instructed by them or to learn from them; the connotation is that Jesus is the Master and Mary was the pupil. Mary was aware that Martha wanted help, and of what had to be done in the kitchen, but she intentionally sat at Jesus’ feet – not because she didn’t care for her sister, but she realised it was a rare opportunity because Jesus was in their home. She made a choice.
In Judaism, women were not permitted to sit at the feet of a rabbi; discipleship was reserved for men alone. Martha wanted Jesus to stop Mary, and for her to go to the kitchen to be of more use. Jesus’ loving repetition of her name: “Martha, Martha” – as when God said “Abraham, Abraham” – was not accidental; in Tagalog also, we often emphasise things by repeating words. Although Jesus commended Martha for being a servant, He told her, “You are troubled by many things”. Are wetroubled by many things in life? However, from Jesus’ standpoint, what Mary was doing was better, and “one thing was needful”. He said, “Despite the necessity to prepare and to serve, Mary chose the better part; and what she chose will never be taken away from her.”
Why was it a better part? According to the Church Fathers, as Jesus was speaking to her the words of life, Jesus is also the Bread of Life, and Mary chose the Bread of Life instead of what Martha was preparing in the kitchen.
We need to listen
The Church often uses this Scripture to differentiate the order of the active and the contemplative. This is similar to prayer. Sometimes people say that when they pray, they don’t hear from God; you may need to stop talking. There’s a time to stop and listen. Prayer is not only talking to God, but also allowing Him to speak to us.
We live in a world of multi-tasking, and with life comes many concerns, as Saint Paul said to the church at Corinth,[iii] causing many hearts to be anxious. Matthew 13:22 says,
“Now he who received seed among thorns is he who hears the Word, but the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the Word, and he becomes unfruitful.”[iv]
We live in a very affluent society; I was surprised when I first went to a department store in the USA and saw an aisle with 100 different kinds of cereals. Which should I choose?[v] The world is an array of choices.
In the movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, there’s a scene in which the hero must choose the cup our Lord supposedly used at the Last Supper; the hermit says, “Choose wisely”.
What do you treasure?
Our choices point to what we treasure. Jesus said,
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”[vi]
Your heart follows what your treasure in life, formed by our choices. Today, what is your priority in life?
“Our lives are fashioned by our choices. First we make choices, then our choices make us.”
Make God the centre
- Today I chose to love God who loved me.
- Today I choose to put Christ at the centre of my life, instead of on the periphery or fringes.
- Today I choose His will for me over mine, because God’s will is good, acceptable, and perfect.
- Today I choose to fix my eyes on things eternal rather than temporal.
- As a child of God filled with the Holy Spirit, I choose to be led by the Spirit.
- Today I choose to serve Jesus, who helped me on the cross.
Choose intentionally[vii] and say, “Jesus, I want You to be the centre of my life”. Make it a personal prayer: “Lord, if I have been the centre of my life for the past years even as a Christian, that changes today…”
Many people struggle with giving. As a young Christian, when it was the offering time I always went to the toilet; but then I realised it wasn’t that I needed the toilet but I was running away from the opportunity to give. I stopped and decided to give what the Lord wanted me to give. Giving is about faith, and it’s intentional: refusing fear and putting our trust in God.
- What lessons have you learned from world events the past two years, and how have they helped you become more dependent upon God?
- What does it mean “to move an ancient boundary”, and what are some examples of this in today’s society? Why is this dangerous? How are you, your family, and your church responding to this kind of confusion?
- How are your choices forming your life? Think of at least one good choice and one bad choice you have made, and consider how it has affected you.
- How can we choose life or death (Deuteronomy 30:15-20), and what does this mean for us as Christians today? Which do you generally choose in your daily life?
- What do you think you would have done if you were in Martha and Mary’s situation? How do you generally respond when you face similar choices? Are you distracted by many things, or do you choose the one thing that is needful?
- Is your prayer life characterised more by speaking or listening to God? What place have you given in your life to listening to Him?
- What is your treasure and priority in life? How is this reflected in your choices?
- Do you choose fear or faith in relation to giving (financial or another kind)? Are you anxious about the economic situation, or are you trusting God for His provisions?
[i] “Annelies Mary ‘Anne’ Frank was a German Dutch diarist of Jewish heritage. One of the most-discussed Jewish victims of the Holocaust, she gained fame posthumously [after her death] with the 1947 publication of [her diary].” – Wikipedia, “Anne Frank”
[ii] Luke 10:27, NKJV
[iii] I Corinthians 7:29-35
[iv] Matthew 13:22, NKJV
[v] From this point onwards, no live-stream video was available for most of the homily. The following text is based on Bp. Elmer’s notes. – Ed.
[vi] Matthew 6:19-21, NKJV
[vii] The following section is transcribed from the livestream video