‘It is Mary who has chosen the better part’

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

The heart of the story in this reading lies in the contrast between the attitudes and actions of Mary and Martha. Mary somehow understands how precious the words of Jesus are. Everything else is of little importance. Fr Adrian Graffy reflects.

Luke 10:38-42

38 In the course of their journey Jesus came to a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat down at the Lord’s feet and listened to him speaking. 40 Now Martha who was distracted with all the serving said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do the serving all by myself? Please tell her to help me.’ 41 But the Lord answered: ‘Martha, Martha,’ he said, ‘you worry and fret about so many things, 42 and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her.’

Other readings: Genesis 18:1-10 Psalm 14 (15) Colossians 1:24-28


Once more in this Sunday’s gospel we have material only found in the Gospel according to Luke. Jesus began his journey to Jerusalem to face his death in the previous chapter. He now reaches a village where he will receive generous hospitality. Luke has placed this story at an early stage of the journey. This raises a question for we know from the Gospel of John that Martha and Mary lived in the village of Bethany quite close to Jerusalem. This does not of course undermine the accuracy and the validity of the story itself.

Luke underlines the presence of women in the ministry of Jesus. In chapter 8 he listed some of the women disciples who accompanied Jesus together with the Twelve. In chapter 7 Jesus was the recipient of the tender attention of the woman who had been a sinner. In our passage Jesus comes to the house of two women.

The heart of the story lies in the contrast between the attitudes and actions of Mary and Martha. Mary somehow understands how precious the words of Jesus are. Everything else is of little importance. She has fathomed one of the most important teachings of this gospel, the need to hear the word of the Lord. They are blessed who hear the word of God and practise it (11:28).

Martha on the other hand is intent on the practical concerns of providing hospitality for her guest. In the very first verse the evangelist tells us that it is Martha who welcomes Jesus into the house. Martha takes charge, but she prefers action to quiet listening. Jesus is a guest to be served, rather than a teacher whose every word is to be learned and treasured.

The mild rebuke of Jesus is for those who do not make the time for what is of the utmost importance, listening to his words. From the very start of his gospel, with the Annunciation to Mary, Luke has stressed that our primary concern should be to hear the words of the Lord.

Do I treasure the word of God and take steps to hear and practise it?

Do I have the priorities of a genuine disciple of Jesus?

We pray for those whose vocation is to listen.

We pray that our service may always be inspired by love.

INT-IMG_5349 Fr Adrian Graffy (3)Rev Dr Adrian Graffy is a member of the Vatican Commission that takes a lead in Bible scholarship, interpretation and promotion in the Catholic Church.

Rev Dr Graffy said of his five-year appointment by Pope Francis in 2014: “It is an honour to be nominated by Pope Francis as a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. I feel humbled and very much look forward to being of service to His Holiness and the Church.”

He added: “A great deal has been achieved in England and Wales in recent years by many co-workers to advance Biblical scholarship and the provision of easy-to-use resources. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them and the Bishops’ Conference Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis for their efforts to promote understanding and love of the Bible, particularly through the publication of the teaching documents, The Gift of Scripture and the study guide to Verbum Domini, The Word of the Lord.”

Rev Dr Graffy received his doctorate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in 1983. He taught for over 20 years in St John’s Seminary in Wonersh, and is Chair of the National Scripture Working Group, which is an instrument of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Fr Graffy is a past director of Brentwood’s Commission for Evangelisation and Formation and parish priest of Christ the Eternal High Priest in Gidea Park, Essex. Among his publications are the Gospel of Mark and the Letter to the Romans (Alive Publishing).

Listen to BBC Essex interview with Fr Adrian Graffy