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In Pursuit of Forgiveness and the “Better Part”

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“This Blood that but one drop of has the power to win all the world forgiveness of its world of sin.” ~ St. Thomas Aquinas

In today’s 1st Reading (Jonah 3:1-10), the Lord commands Jonah to bring a very succinct and very dire warning to the Ninevites, who had abandoned God in favor of the reckless pursuit of worldly things, garnering an outlaw reputation for dealing unscrupulously and dishonestly with their neighboring nations along the way.

“Forty days more and Nineveh will be destroyed.”

But in an amazing display of self-awareness coupled with the corresponding outward actions that always accompany genuine contrition, the Ninevites are spared destruction and instead achieve redemption in the eyes of God. It began with their wise king, whom we are told laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in the ashes, going on to declare a nation-wide fast. Even the animals were adorned in sackcloth. When God saw this tremendous outward sign of repentance, he did not carry out his wrathful plan.

Time and time again throughout scripture, we are reminded: God takes repentance seriously. As you may recall, Saturday’s Daily Reading was the last passage we reviewed that underscored this fact (Baruch 4:29).

In our Gospel (Luke 10:38-42) we encounter Jesus visiting with the serene and attentive Mary and her over-burdened, anxiety-riddled sister Martha. Jesus explains to Martha that there is need of only one thing, hearing the word of God’s messenger, the “better part” as he calls it. It’s not that hospitality wasn’t exceedingly important in Biblical times, in Luke’s Gospel in particular.

The problem with Martha, it would appear, is not that she is busy serving and providing hospitality. The issue isn’t about her serving. After all, Jesus’ life was rooted in service. It’s her worried and distracted state. It is this distracted state that leaves no room for the most critical component of hospitality; gracious attention to the guest, who in this case happened to be the Savior of the world.

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Martha’s worrying and distraction prevent her from being truly present with Jesus, and it even causes her to drive a wedge between her sister and herself, and between Jesus and herself. In this day and age of smart phones, multi-tasking and information overload, I suppose we have all been guilty of failing to be truly present in a given moment, perhaps multiple times in a given day or hour for that matter. It’s gotten to the point where if one doesn’t find one’s self “multi-tasking,” doing at least two things at once, he or she deludes themselves into thinking that they are not being “productive.”

It is true that much of our busyness and distraction stems from some of the noblest of intentions. Providing for our families, giving our children every opportunity to enrich their lives, serving our neighbors and of course serving the Lord. The church needs many Marthas in order to thrive and flourish. But if the sum of our numerous activities leave us with no time to be still in the Lord’s presence and hear God’s word, needless worry and useless anxiety is sure to follow. Our service to others could ultimately become devoid of love, joyless... resentful even. Trying to lovingly and graciously serve without being nourished by God’s word is on par with expecting good fruit to grow from a tree that has been uprooted from the ground.

Jesus encourages all of us who are worried and preoccupied over the many distractions of this world to simply sit and rest in his presence, to hear his words of grace and truth. To know that we are treasured children of His Father. We are His.

Take time out to be renewed in faith and thus strengthened and galvanized for service. Turn your attention to your guest, who also happens to be your host. Our Savior. He wishes to shower you with the abundant gifts of the Holy Spirit And the simple, unadulterated joy of his presence.

Revel in his presence. Seek the better part.

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