16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore
“The Better Part”
Three words in today’s gospel really grab my attention.
The words are: “The better part.” Jesus says, “Mary has chosen the better part.”
Two sisters – Martha and Mary – invite Jesus to have dinner at their home. One sister – Mary – sits with Jesus and takes in all that he has to say.
The other sister – Martha – is getting the meal prepared. We might imagine that she is doing everything – from chips and hummus, to barbecued chicken, to a pastry drizzled with honey.
Well, finally, Martha has had enough of this. She blurts out to Jesus to tell her sister to get up and give her a hand in the kitchen.
And now Jesus speaks those words. He begins, “Martha, just relax.
“Do a simple meal and don’t be so preoccupied with so many things. Your sister Mary has chosen the better part.”
“The Better Part” – What It Doesn’t Mean
I see these three words – “the better part” – as packed with meaning.
To begin with, Jesus is not saying that Martha’s getting dinner ready is not important. He is not saying that working our jobs or doing grocery shopping or cleaning up the house is less important.
In fact, notice that Jesus uses the word “part.” This means that Mary is doing part of what’s needed, but it’s not the whole thing.
What Martha is doing is also part of what is needed. It is also important.
“The Better Part” – What It Means
So, what does Jesus mean by “the better part?”
He means that we need to be prayerfully centered on him. I think that Jesus calls this “the better part” for two reasons.
First, we need to stay prayerfully centered on Jesus to make sure that what we do is of God. This helps to make sure that all that we do flows from our relationship with Jesus.
If we are not centered on the Lord Jesus, then we may say rash things and act disrespectfully. What we do may be harmful to others and even to ourselves.
And then, we also need to stay centered on Jesus to make sure that we actually do what we should do. So, for example, Jesus would want us to listen well to a loved one who really needs to talk about something.
Or he calls us to positively reach out maybe to a neighbor or co-worker who has lost a job. The idea is that if we are not centered in the Lord, we may not be doing what the gospel call us to do.
This is why Jesus calls Mary’s way “the better part.” It helps us to be sure that what we do is gospel-based and it moves us positively to do what the gospel calls us to do.
“The Better Part” – Right Now
Today. right now, here in America, “the better part” has an important application.
We need to be like Mary – centered prayerfully on the Lord – to respond well to the violence that is happening. When African Americans experience profiling by police officers, and when they find it necessary to assert that Black Lives Matter, we need to be centered on Jesus.
Being centered on the Lord will help blacks and all of us to respond in the way of the gospel. Jesus will empower us to seek justice and respect and dignity.
And he will also empower us to seek this in non-violent, peaceful ways. This centeredness on the Lord will help to make sure that what we do is gospel-based and make sure that we actually do something and act.
This centeredness will also help whites or all non-blacks to be open and humble. It will move us to listen and try to understand.
It will move us to approach these issues with with an open mind and open heart. Again, it will help to make sure that what we do is gospel-based and make sure that we actually do something and act.
So, that’s how I see Jesus’ three words today: “the better part.”
It really has to do with us being centered on Jesus. Then the other part – our everyday living and response to everything – will flow from that.