16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
A contractor needed one more man to chop down trees for export. One day, two men appeared willing to do the job but only one could be employed so what the contractor did was to put the two men to a test, they were to chop down as many trees as they could in an eight-hour shift and the man who chopped down more trees got the job. So both men went to different ends of the forest and chopped down as many trees as they could. After eight hours, they both reported their work to the contractor, one chopped down 30 trees and the other 40 trees. So obviously, the man who chopped down 40 trees got the job. The other worker asked how come the other man felled more trees considering he had been working non-stop. The man who got the job said, it’s simple, “I took 15 minute rests after a couple of hours to rest and to sharpen my axe”.
In the gospel for today, Martha is complaining to Jesus because her sister Mary has left all the serving and preparing meals to herself. However, Jesus rebuked Martha gently by saying, “There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken away.” Jesus is not saying that what Martha is doing is not important but he’s telling her that at the moment there are more important things and that is to listen to his preaching, the very reason why Jesus visited their house. Of course, Jesus would have appreciated a good meal, but he is not expecting a feast so Martha should not be worried.
We live in a world where we are driven by work and it seems that our attention is being pulled into different direction except to Jesus. We have different technologies like the telly, radio, the internet, our smartphones for our attention. And because of these, we have become so busy with so many things that make us anxious and drives our stress levels to the roof. While Jesus acknowledges our need to work as an extension of the God’s work of creation, Jesus also wanted us to take time out and rest and be quiet.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of having a private retreat at the Tyburn Monastery near Rotorua, New Zealand. This monastery is being run by the Adorers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the order uses the Benedictine Rule for their monasteries. During my five days over there, I joined in as much as I could to their daily order of prayer in which they pray the Liturgy of the Hours seven times a day and a Mass. During the time in the middle of the prayer times are work and adoration to the Blessed Sacrament. I can just imagine that their anxiety levels would be very low because aside from the telephone, they don’t have newspapers, television and radio. The monastery is also literally in the middle of nowhere. So everyday, it’s just peace and quiet all around. It’s the silence that leads one to be like Mary at the feet of Jesus listening to him.
The beauty in our Church is that it provides various ways of following Christ. While most prefer to become laity, a significant minority prefer to become religious, following Christ more intimately through the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. And among the religious orders, they are generally divided into two, the active congregations or the “Marthas” like the Jesuits, SVD, Religious of the Good Shepherd, Mercy Sisters and many others. And the contemplative congregations or the “Marys” like the Trappists, Cistercians, Benedictines, Pink Sisters and many others.
St. Arnold Janssen, the founder of the Society of the Divine Word or SVD also founded the women counterpart of the SVDs, the Holy Spirit Sisters to do work where it would be too sensitive for men to work like providing health care for women and others. But seven years after founding the Holy Spirit Sisters, he realised he need a congregation whose job was to pray to God 24/7 and to pray specifically for the success of the endeavours of the two other congregations he founded. So this group of sisters more known as the “Pink Sisters” because of the colour of their habit are doing that. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, they are praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament for us SVDs and for the Holy Spirit Sisters.
What the gospel is telling us today is that in our lives we need to have a sense of balance. To work is important but also having time for some peace and quiet and listening to the Lord is equally important. As a religious, I may work for hours and hours for my congregation but without a relationship with Jesus, which can only be nurtured through silence and prayer, then I am nothing. Hopefully, with this important balance, we’ll be able to serve God through his people better and our lives would also become more meaningful.