“You are anxious and worried about many things, but there is need of only one thing.” Life is full of these nagging details: how and when can I fix the car, clean the gutters, cook the next meal, pay this or that bill, and on, and on. We’re surrounded by chores, and before we finish one, we’re interrupted with yet another demand on our time, our attention, our energy. We make lists of things to do, and then make lists of our lists in order to be organized. These are the demands of modern life, and there’s just no avoiding them.
In this hectic pace of life, finding time for God can seem like just one more chore. “But there is need for only one thing.” In last week’s Gospel, we heard Jesus teaching about the “great commandment:” You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart and your whole soul, with all your strength and all your mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus didn't give us the "great chore" or the "great to-do list." Love for God is not an activity, like our love for pizza or baseball or walking the dog. Love for God is the center and foundation of our lives.
How is this wholehearted love for God and neighbor the “one thing” we need? Love for God and neighbor won’t keep us from being occupied with the details of living, but it can keep us from being anxious about them. This love gives us joy in our vocations, despite our distractions, and even despite our afflictions.
Abraham’s hospitality in the first reading shows his willingness to bear the cost of love. “The Lord appeared to Abraham… as he sat in the entrance to his tent, while the day was growing hot.” Because of the heat of the day, Abraham was sitting in the shade, keeping cool. Now, Abraham was responsible for a lot of people, and I doubt he got to sit in the shade very often. But, when he saw three strangers standing there in the full heat of the sun, he ran to meet them. He invited them to rest for a while in his shade. When they accepted his hospitality, he offered still more. He hastened to the tent, to let his wife Sara know to make extra bread. He ran to the pasture, to choose a calf for a servant to butcher and cook. He ran to bring them water and food. While they ate, he didn’t sit and eat with them, but served them. After all that running in the heat of the day, he stayed on his feet, waiting on them.
Abraham's love for God and neighbor inspired him to sacrifice his rest, and some of his wealth, for these strangers. He did so willingly, and with a clear sense of joy. When the angels promised again the birth his son Isaac, he received that gift with the same interior joy.
His hospitality may strike us as extravagant. In contrast, Martha's anxiety to finish the chores may strike us as much more reasonable. Even Martha's complaining may seem a smaller cost for being God's friend.
But Martha unwittingly pays a much higher cost: "anxious and worried about many things," she is not with Christ, only near Him. Martha doesn't receive the gift of Christ's presence with the same depth and joy as her sister.
For "Mary has chosen the better part." When Jesus comes to her house, she takes the time to be with Him. She opens her heart and her soul and her mind to Him, and to His teaching. She gives Him her whole self, not just her activity.
Abraham's love is extravagant. Abraham does not count the cost of his hospitality, and God repays him with the birth of his son, Isaac. Mary's love is extravagant in the same way. She does not count the cost, and Jesus rewards her with the promise that "it will not be taken away from her."
In our baptism, and in our membership in the Church, Christ comes to us. In the teachings of the Church, and in this holy Mass, Christ offers many graces, and fulfills many promises. In the people we love every day, and in strangers who cross our path, Christ is present, asking for our time, our talents, our love. Our vocation is to love God and neighbor with the same extravagance.