LISTEN: Reflection for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time — Year C

Today’s Gospel reminds us that there are many ministries in the Church, but what unites them is Christ. This famous scene can be so often parodied – Martha fussing in the kitchen, Mary listening to Jesus – and can be easily misunderstood. It illustrates the tensions that arise when we try to rank ministries: active versus contemplative; pastoral versus intellectual. Jesus does not denigrate Martha’s busyness. The active ministry of service is important. As is the more contemplative dimension, by which I mean both the life of contemplation and study.

The key word in the passage is ‘chosen’. Mary has chosen to sit at Jesus’ feet. She has found her calling within the universal call to discipleship. To sit at his feet is to learn from him. It suggests development of a deep spiritual life. It can also be read as Mary undergoing a kind of training for an active ministry of proclaiming God’s word.

It is also significant that the Gospel presents us with two women disciples. Women in this time were profoundly restricted in what they could do – theirs was the domain of the home, any other work was seen as at best unfortunate (like a widow running a business) and at worst scandalous. The idea of itinerant women traveling without spouses evoked in the imagination images of prostitution! That Mary is ready to ‘sit at Jesus feet’ evokes, according to some commentators, images of her readiness to become an active disciple. That Jesus accepts and encourages her discernment might well infer that he accepts the active ministry of women as proclaimers of the Good News. (By the way, note that Monday is the solemnity of St Mary Magdalen, who is called the ‘Apostle to the Apostles’).

Join Anthony Egan SJ as he reflects on the readings for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time — Year C.

Read the texts in your Bible or hover your mouse over the references below to see the texts.
Genesis 18:1-10; Psalm 14; Colossians 1:24-28; Luke 10:38-42

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Fr Anthony Egan SJ

Fr Anthony Egan SJ (born Cape Town 1966; entered the Jesuits 1990; ordained 2002) has taught, full-time or part-time, at St Augustine College of South Africa, St John Vianney Seminary, Fordham University (on sabbatical) and the University of the Witwatersrand. The author/co-author of a number of books, book chapters, academic and popular articles, he is a correspondent for America magazine, a contributor to Worldwide and writes for He is also a commentator on local and international radio and television. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Helen Suzman Foundation. Extramural interests include Science Fiction, Theatre, Art and creative writing, including poetry.
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