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Saturday, 16 July 2016

Homily for 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp



Genesis 18:1-10, Colossians 1:24-28, Luke 10:38-42

On the Gospel, Lord of the Work and Work of the Lord
A certain Catholic missionary was doing a very good job in his mission village in the African interior. In a few years he had baptized many people and built a church, a school and a health centre. Owing to his restless work schedule he took ill and had to be flown back to his native country in Europe for treatment. After many months he was well enough to return to Africa. To his surprise and utter disappointment he discovered that the whole village had abandoned his church and turned to a local evangelical preacher. Even the church he built now had an evangelical signboard in front of it. “What went wrong?” he asked himself. How did his flourishing mission collapse overnight. “What did I do wrong?” he asked his former church members. The truth hit home one day when a woman said to him, “Father, you did a lot for us. You gave our children clothes and built up our village. But there was one thing you did not do. You did not bring us to know Jesus as our personal Lord and Saviour.” Doing the work of the Lord is great. But knowing the Lord of the work comes first.


Today’s gospel is the story of two sisters, Martha who is busy with the work of the Lord, and Mary who is more interested in knowing the Lord of the work. For Martha service comes first, for Mary relationship comes first. Like the missionary in our story, Martha must have been shocked to hear the Lord himself saying that it is relationship with him that comes first, for without it our service is meaningless.

There are people who see Martha in this story as the material girl and Mary as the spiritual one. The association of Martha with materialism is easier to make in the English language where the name Martha seems to rhyme with the word “matter.” But this way of thinking in terms of separation between spirit and matter does not belong to the gospel of Luke. Rather Luke presents Martha and Mary as two sisters who are both interested in the Lord, two women who both want to please the Lord. The difference between them is the manner in which they go about trying to please the Lord. Martha takes the way of service or working for the Lord. Mary takes the way of relationship or being with the Lord.

Mark tells us that when Jesus called the apostles to follow him, he called them for a dual purpose: “to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message” (Mark 3:14). The need, on the one hand, to be with the Lord, to know him, to fellowship with him and be nourished by his word and, on the other hand, to do the Lord’s work, to serve the Lord in others, to proclaim his message of love in word and deed, brings us to a conflict. Which one comes first? How much of my time should I devote to being with the Lord, to prayer and listening to God’s word, and how much time to doing the work of the Lord? In spite of the urgent need to throw ourselves into the work of the Lord, it is only logical to say that my relationship with the Lord of the work comes before my involvement with the work of the Lord.

The point of the story of Jesus with May and Martha is not to invite us to choose between being a Martha or a Mary. The true disciple needs to be both Martha and Mary. The point of the story is to challenge our priorities so that we come to see that fellowship with the Lord, being with the Lord and hearing his word should always precede the work we do for the Lord. Do we have a program of daily fellowship with the Lord? Many people fulfill this by assisting daily in the Eucharist where they can also hear the word of God. Others schedule a holy hour or quiet time when they can pray and read the word of God. Whatever way we fulfill this need, today’s gospel invites all Christians first to be a Mary who sits with devotion at the Lord’s feet listening his word, and then also to be a Martha who throws herself with energy into the business of serving the Lord.

On the Epistle, The Church as the Body of Christ

William Barclay, a famous Bible scholar, has this beautiful illustration of the relationship between Christ and the church:

Suppose a great doctor discovers a cure for cancer. Once that cure is found, it is there. But before it can become available for everyone, it must be taken out to the world. Doctors and surgeons must know about it and be trained to use it. The cure is there, but one person cannot take it out to all the world; a corps of doctors must be the agents whereby it arrives at all the world’s sufferers.

That precisely is what the church is to Jesus Christ. It is in Jesus that all people and all nations can be reconciled to God. But before that can happen, they must know about Jesus Christ, and it is the task of the church to bring that about. Christ is the head; the church is the body. The head must have a body through which it can work. The church is quite literally hands to do Christ’s work, feet to run upon His errands, and a voice to speak His words.

The identity of Christ with the church was the first lesson that Paul learnt in his life as a Christian. Before his conversion Paul, then known as Saul, saw Christians as a bunch of infidels deserving of death. When Christ appeared to him in a vision as he rode to Damascus to persecute the Christians there, Christ’s first words to him were: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4) The voice came from heaven, so how could Saul be persecuting Christ on earth? Paul then understood that the heavenly Christ and the earthly church are one and the same thing. What you do to the church you do to Christ.

The vision on the way to Damascus taught Paul that even though Christ was already enjoying divine glory with the heavenly Father, it was still possible for him to suffer through the suffering of Christians. That is how Paul came to the realization that the church is the body of Christ. When he says in today’s second reading from the letter to the Colossians that “in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church (Colossians 1:24),” he does not mean that the suffering of Christ by which he redeemed us was deficient. He only meant to underline the fact that so long as Christians are suffering persecution in this world, Christ was still suffering, in his body, that is. When we realize that Paul wrote this letter from prison (verse 4:3) in Rome where he and other Christians were still being persecuted for their faith, then we see why he understands their suffering as Christ’s ongoing suffering. When Christians suffer, Christ suffers.

Paul says of the church, “I became its servant according to God's commission that was given to me for you (verse 1:25).” For Paul being a servant of Christ and being a servant of the church are one and the same thing. There is no separating Christ and the church. What you do for the church you do for Christ.

There is a funny game in which people are asked, “If you were a fruit, what fruit would you be, and why?” Some say they would like to be a mango, delicious and irresistible; others that they would love to be an apple, hard but good for your health, and yet others a cactus fruit, thorny on the outside, but delicious in the inside. Today, we could play a similar game. If you are the body of Christ, what part of Christ’s body are you? Are you Christ’s feet bringing him to other people, like the Eucharistic ministers bringing Holy Communion to the sick? Are you Christ’s hand wiping away the tears of the afflicted or helping to put a roof over the head of the homeless? Or are you Christ’s mouth announcing Good News to the poor? As a church we are Christ’s body. As an individual, what part of Christ’s body are you? What are you contributing to the well-being of Christ in his body, the church? Each of us is invited to answer this question for himself or herself today.

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