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Fr Billy Swan

Dear friends. On this Sunday, the Gospel puts before us the well-known story of Jesus’ visit to the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus that was located at Bethany, just outside Jerusalem. It was one of several visits for we know that this was a home where Jesus was among friends who knew him well, as he knew them. And during this conversation with the two sisters, Jesus calmly and lovingly teaches us something important for the culture of our time.

We live at a time when new technology has utterly changed the way we communicate. From the widespread use of smart phones to Facebook to WhattsApp, to email, videos and texts – we can communicate instantly and directly to anyone anywhere in the world in seconds. It’s amazing to think that even now, as you hear these words at Mass or read them online, you can do so anywhere in the world through the webcam and the internet. And it seems there is no going back. All this new technology has arrived and is here to stay.

So what’s the problem you might ask? First of all we thank God for these new ways and celebrate them as gifts from Him. The problem is that while we are finding new ways of communicating, we are losing the art of old ways of communicating. We are losing the art of healthy human interaction. Simple things like looking another person in the eye, calling another person by their name, the art of attentive listening and respectful speaking. Perhaps it can be summed up as us being less interested in people caused by our heads being down on our phones and computers. We have become too immersed in our own worlds and too distracted by the many things that compete for our attention.

In many ways, Martha represents us in today’s Gospel. She is a woman of faith and hospitality but she is distracted and lost in activity. She is preoccupied with what Jesus calls ‘so many things’ that she is not present to her special guest who has entered her house. She is losing out on the moment and so busy that she does not listen to the Master. How accurate a portrayal is this of each of us? How symbolic is it of our culture?

The second challenge that we face is that if we are constantly distracted and not present to those around us, it is all the more difficult to pray. Prayer begins with listening ‘with the ears of the heart’ to what the Lord wishes us to hear. It is being like Mary who assumed the position of a disciple, sitting at his feet of Jesus, watching him closely and listening to every gracious word that he spoke. This is what Jesus commended her for. She chose the better part for she prioritised her relationship with Christ and gave him all of her herself. She was present to him and interested in him. Unlike Martha, Mary was not lost in ‘the many’ but prioritised the one thing necessary and the one thing most important of all – her relationship with the Lord and deep friendship with him.

Friends, there is much in today’s Gospel to ponder and so much that could be said. But maybe for the times we live, we can see this Gospel through the lens of our call to be present to one another and interested in one another - not to be so distracted to walk past someone without saying hello and not to be caught up in ‘the many’ at the expense of ‘the one thing necessary’, namely being present to and attentive to our friendship with God. With Mary, let us choose the better part.


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