Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 17, 2022

Sister Mary Glenn, OSB shares a reflection on the scripture reading Luke 10:38-42:

Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.  There is need of only one thing.” And she says to Jesus, “please tell me, what is the one thing I need?” I don’t think Jesus is talking about food here. The metaphor of the meal is much more than the details of preparation. Jesus wants us to ask, “what is it that gives me life, that nourishes my mind and heart? What is the one thing that leads me to Love?” And perhaps we respond, “Well, lots of things nourish me, why does it need to be ONE thing?” We need to go to a deeper level within ourselves to find the one thing we need.

Everything Jesus teaches us he has had to learn himself, so I ask what was the one thing necessary for him? Ultimately that remains a mystery, although it is a mystery still worth pondering. For me it is his intimate relationship with the Divine that he calls Father. We see this at his Baptism, at the Transfiguration, and in his last hours in Gethsemane. He knows himself to be Beloved of God. Our faith tells us that we too are beloved. Is that the one thing we need to remember?

The setting of this story may help us discover the one thing necessary. Jesus is traveling alone and enters a village where a woman welcomes him into her home. The fact that Martha is a homeowner is mentioned in several ancient manuscripts but passed over in some translations. That Jesus comes into her home by himself is another way that he ignores the conventional cultural norms separating men and women. Jesus knows and likes these two sisters and wants to spend time with them. Maybe the one thing necessary has to do with relationships; we need each other’s company. The setting also evokes the atmosphere of the disciple who wants to hear words of wisdom from the Master. Maybe the one thing we need is to listen in silence to the Spirit within us.

Another way of answering the question, “what is the one thing necessary?” is by looking at the natural world. All non-human life seems to follow a pre-determined cycle of life and death. The writer, Annie Dillard, is fascinated by the natural world and has the gift of opening our eyes to what is there. In her essay “Living Like Weasels” we experience how the weasel does exactly what it is meant to do in stalking its prey. Its whole being is inclined to one necessary thing and Dillard seems wistful that human beings cannot be as simple and focused as the weasel. She writes, “We can live any way we want. People take vows of poverty chastity, and obedience – even of silence – by choice. The thing is to stalk your calling in a certain skilled and supple way…. This is yielding, not fighting. A weasel doesn’t “attack” anything; a weasel lives as he’s meant to, yielding at every moment to the perfect freedom of single necessity” (“Living Like Weasels” in Teaching a Stone to Talk, Annie Dillard, 1982, p. 16).

I find this attractive until I remember that I am more complicated than a weasel and other non-human living beings. I am a bundle of conflicting thoughts and emotions that distract from my focus on the one necessary thing.

This is when I turn to Christ, the one who lived in perfect freedom the single necessity he was called to. And we know where that takes us: to death of self and transformation into our unique expression of the Divine Mystery. Dillard concludes her essay with the image of a weasel clinging to the neck of an eagle who was attacked by a weasel but survives and with the weasel clinging to its neck flies off into the wild blue yonder. She writes: “I think it would be well, and proper and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you. Then even death, where you’re going no matter how you live, cannot you part. Seize it and let it seize you up aloft even, till your eyes burn out and drop;” until your flesh falls off in shreds and you are scattered over fields and woods from the heights of eagles.

Discovering the one thing necessary creates tension within ourselves and with others, just as it did with Mary and Martha. Yet, I wonder when the day comes that each of us has found the one thing necessary, that we will have true community with a fantastic variety of people held together by Divine Life.

Source: “Living Like Weasels” from Teaching a Stone to Talk, Annie Dillard, 1982, p. 16.


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