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AVOIDING DISTRACTIONS

Read­ing Time: 9 minutes

(Ref. Texts: Gen 18:1–10; Col 1:24–28; Luke 10:38–42)

Dis­trac­tions can take us in an excit­ing dir­ec­tion but most often bor­row our atten­tion briefly without much res­ist­ance and take their sweet time giv­ing it back. Dis­trac­tions lure us in with an easy escape and then trick us by steal­ing our atten­tion” (T. Stiles).

Introduction

In this Sunday Gos­pel read­ing, Jesus con­tin­ues his teach­ings on the king­dom of God and the con­di­tion for inher­it­ing it; and on why some people work their way away from etern­al life. Last Sunday Gos­pel (cf. Luke 10:25–37) ended in verse 37. And this Sunday Gos­pel begins from verse 38 of the same chapter. In oth­er words, the story of Jesus in the home of Martha and Mary com­ple­ments the story of the Good Samar­it­an, which imme­di­ately pre­cedes it in the Gos­pel accord­ing to Luke. To be noted also is that both stor­ies are unique to Luke. Remem­ber, Jesus is still on his way to Jer­u­s­alem (cf. Luke 9:51), the cli­max of his mis­sion and where he will x‑ray the reli­gious form­al­ity and injustice of the Jew­ish people and the crooked­ness of reli­gious and civil author­it­ies. These were dis­trac­tions from that which mat­ters. Hence, the theme of this reflec­tion – Avoid­ing distractions.

While the story of the Samar­it­an opens with the words “a cer­tain man”, this Sunday read­ing opens with the words “a cer­tain woman named Martha.” What is the sim­il­ar­ity between the two stor­ies? Like the Samar­it­an, Mary, a woman, is a mar­gin­al­ized per­son in the Jew­ish soci­ety. Both Mary and the Samar­it­an do what is not expec­ted of them in such soci­ety. As a woman, Mary would be expec­ted, like Martha, to pre­pare hos­pit­al­ity for a guest. Here again Jesus breaks with the social con­ven­tions of his time. Just as a Samar­it­an would not be a mod­el for neigh­bour­li­ness, so a woman would not sit with the men around the feet of a teach­er. We must break with those dis­crim­in­at­ory social, mor­al, cul­tur­al, reli­gious, polit­ic­al and eco­nom­ic con­ven­tions of our time. It is the only way to prove we have under­stood the mes­sage of the Gospel.

Showing hospitality

Now as they went on their way, he entered a cer­tain vil­lage, where a woman named Martha wel­comed him into her home” (Luke 10:38). Accord­ing to its gen­er­al dic­tion­ary defin­i­tion, hos­pit­al­ity is the act or prac­tice of being hos­pit­able. It is the self­less recep­tion and enter­tain­ment of strangers or guests. In my own under­stand­ing, hos­pit­al­ity is the kind­ness in wel­com­ing oth­ers. Those oth­ers could be friends, rel­at­ives, col­leagues, for­eign­ers or strangers. It is a cor­di­al recep­tion. In Romans 12:13, Paul urged the Roman Chris­ti­ans to con­trib­ute to the needs of the holy ones (fel­low believ­ers), and to prac­tice hos­pit­al­ity. Hos­pit­al­ity was in fact, very import­ant for the early Chris­ti­ans. The reas­on is that most of them could not afford hotels or lodging houses when trav­el­ing, hence, they depended on the pro­vi­sion and good­ness of fel­low believ­ers. For the Ancients, hos­pit­al­ity was sac­red. Wel­com­ing someone was like wel­com­ing God or God’s mes­sen­ger or mes­sen­gers. The case of Abra­ham in Gen­es­is 18:1–10 (cf. First Read­ing) is a typ­ic­al example. By wel­com­ing those three men, who were God’s angels (mes­sen­gers), Abra­ham and Sarah his wife attrac­ted God’s bless­ing to them­selves, a bless­ing that changed their situ­ation as regards pro­geny. Hos­pit­al­ity is a dis­pos­i­tion, espe­cially of the heart. It is a way of life incul­cated in the people. Hos­pit­al­ity is part of every people’s cul­ture. How hos­pit­able are you?

Dur­ing his salvif­ic activ­it­ies, Jesus vis­ited and received hos­pit­al­ity from people includ­ing his fam­ily friends. Those vis­its and meet­ings offered him the oppor­tun­ity to teach, instruct, dir­ect and re-dir­ect the people (includ­ing the present gen­er­a­tion) on the right way and right atti­tude to live their lives and attain sal­va­tion. Jesus had spe­cial affin­ity with the fam­ily of Laz­arus, Martha and Miri­am (cf. John 11:5). Luke makes him vis­it his fam­ily friends on his way to Jer­u­s­alem, an oppor­tun­ity he could not miss because once he enters Jer­u­s­alem, they may not have him again in their fam­ily. His vis­it­ing them was a way of greet­ing them and bid­ding them farewell too. It was espe­cially an occa­sion to teach believ­ers the need to con­cen­trate on those things or on that par­tic­u­lar thing that really counts. The cir­cum­stance not­with­stand­ing, nev­er ceases from show­ing hos­pit­al­ity to people, even when it is not appre­ci­ated. Good must be done, not because people acknow­ledge and appre­ci­ate it, but because it is good and must be done.

Avoiding distractions  

By dis­trac­tion, I do not mean someone, a thing or an enter­tain­ment that pro­vokes pleased interest and dis­tracts you from wor­ries and vex­a­tions. Instead, by dis­trac­tion is meant draw­ing your atten­tion away from what really mat­ters. It is obstacle to atten­tion. In the con­ver­sa­tion between Jesus and the law­yer as recor­ded in Luke 10:21–37, with the story of the man who fell in the hands of the hood­lums, Jesus taught the law­yer and all believ­ers, that the­or­et­ic­al and blind obed­i­ence to the law were ser­i­ous hindrances and dis­trac­tions to the pur­suit of etern­al life. Jesus’ vis­it to his friends’ house, offered him anoth­er oppor­tun­ity to reit­er­ate this mes­sage. The pur­suit of the king­dom of God should not be second to any­thing. But Martha did not under­stand this. She was too dis­trac­ted with worldly mat­ters to the extent she even wanted to quar­rel with her sis­ter Miri­am. The jour­ney towards etern­al life abhors dis­trac­tions. Dis­trac­tion could be intern­al or extern­al. Unfor­tu­nately, many people are so dis­trac­ted that they lose focus in life. Mis­place­ment of pri­or­ity and value is a ser­i­ous sign of dis­trac­tion. Many people fail in life because they are dis­trac­ted. Dis­trac­tion is pla­cing a keg in the wheel of success.

Which is preferable?

When Jesus entered the home of Laz­arus, Martha and Miri­am, and Martha wel­comed him, Luke notes that “she had a sis­ter called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teach­ing. But Martha was dis­trac­ted by her many servings; so she came to him and asked, Lord, do you not care that my sis­ter has left me to do all the serving alone? Tell her then to help me” (Luke 10:39–40). Which is prefer­able? Act­ive life or con­tem­plat­ive life? I do not want to go into the argu­ment that Martha rep­res­ents act­ive life while Miri­am rep­res­ents con­tem­plat­ive life. This is the opin­ion of some people. This sounds good but the reas­on for the story is com­pletely anoth­er. The Greek text says Martha was per­iesp­ato peri pollēn diako­ni­an – ‘dis­trac­ted with much serving.’ The Greek word per­iesp­ato is the indic­at­ive pass­ive imper­fect of the verb perispaomai. In the pass­ive sense, this verb means to be pulled away; to be dragged away, to be or to become dis­trac­ted, hence, to be over­burdened. Now, the imper­fect con­di­tion indic­ates Martha was shut­tling between the kit­chen and listen­ing to Jesus. She made her­self jack-of-all-trades and mas­ter of none. Martha could be com­pared to the Per­son­al­ity Type Sev­en of the Enneagram – the Enthu­si­ast (or Epi­cure accord­ing to some), who are always on the go, pur­su­ing one exper­i­ence after anoth­er, and keep­ing them­selves enter­tained and engaged with their many ideas and activ­it­ies. Such people are always tensed and eas­ily agitated.

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