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DISTRACTIONS AND ETERNAL LIFE

Read­ing Time: 6 minutes

16th Sunday of the year © – July 17, 2016 – (Ref. Text: Luke 10:38–42)

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’s Gos­pel (Luke 10:25–37) ended in verse 37. Today’s Gos­pel begins from verse 38 of the same chapter. Remem­ber, Jesus is still on his way to Jer­u­s­alem (cf. Luke 9:51), where he will x‑ray the cli­max of his mis­sion, and the crooked­ness of reli­gious and civil authorities.

Showing Hospitality

Accord­ing to 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 (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.

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 counts.

Eternal Life Abhors Distractions

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.

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 peri pol­len 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.

Serving two mas­ters con­tem­por­ar­ily is impossible (cf. Matt 6:24). Miri­am was will­ing to listen to Jesus but the pres­sure of show­ing hos­pit­al­ity to Jesus and espe­cially, to a friend pre­ven­ted her from con­cen­trat­ing on listen­ing to the mes­sage of life. This is exactly the reas­on for her dis­trac­tions. Blind observ­ance to the Law and the­or­et­ic­al know­ledge of the law were the dis­trac­tions of the prot­ag­on­ists (the law­yer, the priest and the Levite) of last Sunday’s Gos­pel. In this Sunday, Martha’s own dis­trac­tion is her extreme atten­tion to show hos­pit­al­ity to the det­ri­ment of her sal­va­tion. Accord­ing to the author of Qoheleth (Eccle­si­ast­es), there is stip­u­lated time and moment for everything (cf. Qoh 3:1). Each per­son must dis­cov­er his or her own dis­trac­tions. Can you identi­fy yours? Can you handle them? What effort are you mak­ing to over­come them?

But wait! What was wrong with Martha try­ing to attend to her guest and fam­ily friend? She did what the Samar­it­an vil­lage could not do (cf. Luke 9:52–53). Again, what she did was pre­cisely what Jesus advises his dis­ciples and believ­ers of every age to do, diako­nia – ser­vice (cf. Mark 10:43–45). Object­ively, there was noth­ing wrong with Martha serving Jesus. How­ever, from the theo­lo­gic­al and soteri­olo­gic­al points of view, Martha was doing the right thing but at the wrong time. As Luke 9:51, announced, Jesus’ move­ment hence­forth is to Jer­u­s­alem, the final des­tin­a­tion and sum­mit of his earthly mis­sion. It was not time for the kind of ser­vice inten­ded by Martha. On the con­trary, it was time for sober reflec­tion. Although Luke did not tell us the con­tent of Jesus’ words, which Miri­am was listen­ing to, but from the con­text, we can infer it had to do with his mis­sion and entrance into the city of Jer­u­s­alem. As a fam­ily friend, he def­in­itely must have equally advised them to be mor­ally upright to be able to inher­it etern­al life. Why is Miriam’s choice a bet­ter option than that of Martha?

What Really Matters?

The con­clu­sion that Jesus must have spoken about spir­itu­al life and etern­al life is sup­por­ted by Jesus’ words that Miri­am has chosen the one thing that mat­ters, which can­not be taken away from her (cf. Luke 10:42). Luke 10:39 says Miri­am sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to him. Jesus’ feet is the disciple’s prop­er place (cf. Luke 8:35; cf. also John 19:25). On sev­er­al occa­sions, Jesus had warned the apostles and dis­ciples about being anxious, dis­trac­ted or burdened by so many things (cf. Luke 8:14; 12:11.22–30; 21:34). That Miri­am has made a bet­ter choice is a ref­er­ence to the Hebrew (Old) Test­a­ment pas­sages where the greatest pos­ses­sion is close fel­low­ship with the Lord as one’s “por­tion” in life (cf. Ps 16:5; 27:4: 73:26; 119:57; 142:5; Jos 18:7). This is what Miri­am has chosen and noth­ing can take it away from her, not even her sister’s com­plaint to help her in the kit­chen. Con­sequently, Jesus could not but recall Martha’s atten­tion to this fun­da­ment­al truth. I think this was his primary reas­on for vis­it­ing this fam­ily on his way to Jer­u­s­alem. By telling Martha that Miri­am has made a bet­ter choice, ipso facto Jesus encour­aged and advised Martha to fore­go her bur­dens and fol­low her sister’s example. Like the law­yer of last Sunday’s Gos­pel (cf. Luke 10:37), Jesus indir­ectly asked Martha to go and do the same thing Miri­am is doing and stop com­plain­ing and wor­ry­ing her­self of too many eph­em­er­al things. Strong mes­sage indeed!

Final Words

Dear read­er, look around you. Observe everything hap­pen­ing around you. Sit back a moment and reflect on your life, your fam­ily, town, place of work, schools, offices, gov­ern­ment houses, churches, your coun­try, the world, etc. What do you notice? Martha every­where. Cer­tainly, if you are like Martha, you can nev­er notice the dis­trac­tions around you and which are dis­tract­ing you. Some­times some people com­plain and lament of so many things and that they are being dis­trac­ted. But the truth of the mat­ter is that they are the dis­trac­tions them­selves. They dis­tract both them­selves and oth­ers. How many lead­ers both civil and reli­gious are dis­trac­ted? That they do not and can­not lead well is due to their too many dis­trac­tions. Know where, when, how, on whom and on what to place your pri­or­ity and why. Even if you do not believe in etern­al life, you can­not even live your tran­si­ent life well if you are engulfed in dis­trac­tions and wor­ries. Dis­trac­tion is an obstacle to atten­tion and pro­gress. It is mis­dir­ec­tion. It is a shift from the essen­tial. It is for­sak­ing the essence in pur­suit of the shad­ow. People who are dis­trac­ted have prob­lem know­ing what exactly they want and how to achieve their goals. Like Martha, they have the tend­ency to quar­rel and pick offence at every slight­est pro­voca­tion. Many politi­cians, pres­id­ents, gov­ernors, Priests, Pas­tors, Imams, Rab­bis, par­ents, youths, employ­ers and employ­ees, etc., are dis­trac­ted. Signs of their dis­trac­tions are cor­rup­tion, cheat­ing, crime, lying, sexu­al mis­de­mean­our and greed­i­ness. There­fore, learn to dis­tract your dis­trac­tions. Remem­ber: Dis­trac­tion is a sign of spir­itu­al empti­ness and poverty. Avoid­ing it is not an option! Like Paul said (Second Read­ing), the Christ we pro­claim, the wis­dom in which we train and instruct people, to make them per­fect in Christ, need no distractions.

Fur­ther­more, hos­pit­al­ity is kind­ness, gen­tle­ness and good­ness shown to any per­son not just to for­eign­ers or strangers. Be hos­pit­able for hos­pit­al­ity attracts pos­it­iv­ity to the per­son who prac­tices it. But as you do this, you must apply wis­dom giv­en the con­text of our soci­ety and envir­on­ment. Wish­ing you God’s guid­ance and enlight­en­ment dur­ing this week. May you be free and freed from your dis­trac­tions. Amen! God bless you. Sha­lom!

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