16th Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 17, 2022



Entering the monastery, Jack saw monks in simple robes practicing their meditations and tending to the grounds.

“Ahh,” he thought, “here is a life, free of distractions!”

But walking into the study halls, he discovered monks staring into their laptops. In the cells, he saw monks typing on their iPads.  Shaken by this intrusion of the outside world into the monastic life, he sought out the abbot.

The abbot looked up from his cell phone, greeted the man and asked if he had a question.

“Abbot, I came here expecting a place free of distractions, and yet, I see distractions all around. Tell me, is it now acceptable for monks to spend their free time answering emails?”

“Of course,” said the abbot, “so long as there are no attachments.”  (upjoke.com)

Distractions!   We all have them.   Not all of them are bad, however.  Sometimes, distractions can be good thing, especially if we’ve run into a dead end or a brick wall and can’t seem to arrive at any foreseeable conclusion.    That’s why, often at long meetings, breaks are scheduled where the participants can think or do something other than focus on the agenda of the meeting.   I remember  one time, being at an all day meeting, when my religious order was trying to refine its understanding of what precious blood spirituality calls us to do in our world and to develop strategies to make it happen.    The facilitator we had hired stopped about an hour into the meeting,  put some fun toys on the conference table and asked us to play with them for fifteen minutes and then to get up and get something to drink, and to take a walk outside.    When we returned to the meeting, there were a plethora of new, unexpected ideas that had surfaced from that time of  “distraction.”

Giving our brains something else to focus on, is sometimes, just what we may need, to see things from a fresh perspective or to consider approaching the problem from a new angle.  The point of these distractions is not to avoid the problem or the task at hand.   In fact, it’s the exact opposite.

It’s a way to become creative, to re-charge, to re-boot, and to use other parts of our brains, in an attempt to make unexpected connections.

The time when distractions become problematic is when we use them to avoid something or someone important in our lives.   The time when distractions become problematic is when we give no time limit to them and let them persist unfettered.    The time when distractions become problematic is when we use them to criticize someone else, gossip about someone else, or denigrate the reputation or the character of someone else.

Today’s gospel is a prime example of both kinds of distractions.     We can say that both Martha and Mary were, most likely, very good hosts to those who visited them.   Like any family in the Ancient Near East, hospitality was number one on their list of priorities.   Under ordinary circumstances, I’ll bet Mary was just like Martha, in tending to the physical needs of her guests.

But something distracted Mary, this time, from her normal hospitality routine.   Maybe it was the words that came forth from Jesus’ mouth.   Or perhaps it was the peaceful and loving charisma that Jesus naturally exuded.   Maybe it was Jesus’ piercing eyes that could look into a persons’ soul and know what their deepest desires and longings were, at any moment.    Maybe it was a combination of all of these and more!  What we DO know, is that, this time, Mary’s normal behavior changed.   THIS time, Mary is found sitting at the feet of Jesus, as a true disciple would, listening to what he had to say.

And that’s why Jesus reacts to Martha’s complaining the way he does.    He realizes that Mary isn’t trying to get out of work.  She’s not trying to be difficult or to cause her sister any undue stress.   Mary understands that the best way to honor Jesus’ presence among them is by listening to what he has to say and then, reflecting on it so that, ultimately she can put his words into practice!    Far from being a passive observer, Mary is actively listening and pondering what these words of Jesus meant for her life, for the nation of Israel, and for the world.  Viewed in this way, Jesus sees Mary’s receptivity to his Word as being the best possible way to show him hospitality.

On the other hand, we can imagine that Martha was distracted by wondering if the house was clean enough, whether she had prepared enough food, whether the place where Jesus was sitting was comfortable enough,  or whether the sort of food items she was preparing would be acceptable to Christ.   Maybe Martha envied Mary’s position in getting the opportunity to sit at the feet of Jesus.   Maybe Martha felt that she was more entitled to resting and relaxing with Christ than Mary was.   Or perhaps Martha was simply distracted by feeling that the weight of the world was now on her, that she’d be judged negatively, if everything wasn’t perfect.

Like Martha, sometimes, the biggest distraction we have in life, is not accepting ourselves as flawed human beings, and thinking that we have to be perfect ALL the time.   Sometimes, the biggest distraction we have, is thinking that our self-worth relies on what other people think of us and so, we’re constantly in the state of trying to make everyone else happy and ourselves miserable in the process.   Sometimes, the biggest distraction we have is thinking that our actions can “save” us, that if we can just show God by our actions toward him or our neighbor, that we’re worthy of heaven, then we can rest and be calm.

It’s these many distractions, most likely, to which Jesus is referring in Martha’s witness and it’s the same sort of distractions that Jesus is challenging us to avoid in our lives as well!       We can so easily be distracted today from simply sitting in the presence of the Lord in silence, letting the Lord speak to us in the depths of our hearts, in the gentle breezes and radiant sunsets of each passing day,  in the words of holy scripture, or through the daily encounters we have with others.

In addition to distracting ourselves with judgmental mindsets and busy-ness, we can also distract ourselves with the pervasive technologies that abound in our world:  from cell phones, tablets, laptops video gaming consoles, and smart TVs to social media apps; the list is growing and is endless.    When we distract ourselves by our screens, and by the sometimes dangerous people on the other end,  we have the tendency to forget the real human element in our lives —- the people whom the Lord has given us to love and to be loved by— that are right there, in front of us, and the ways in which the Lord wants to make himself known to us, through these people.   Furthermore, the technologies in our lives that promise to make our lives less stressful, in reality, often have the exact opposite effect, by urging us to behave in a certain way:  to acquire more followers, to leave more comments that others will like, to give a thumbs up to popular cultural trends, and to share the minutiae of our lives with anyone and everyone who is online.    Don’t get me wrong:  technology has its place in our lives, but it has to be limited in its tendency to take over and to hinder our ability to draw closer to God and to one another.

In addition to technology, job-related distractions are often a symptom of difficulties at home with one’s spouse or children, and so, one spouse volunteers to work more overtime to avoid dealing with these problems.  Parents can sometimes get distracted too, by immersing themselves in the extracurricular activities of their children, so much so, that they can take each other for granted and when their children leave home as adults, they don’t know their partner any more.  Harmful distractions can also be found in addictions to chemical substances or lifestyles in which an altered state of consciousness or behavior is preferred to the real life problems that exist in one’s daily life.  Left unchecked, such addictions can lead us to abuse our bodies, minds and souls or to other persons.  At the other end of the spectrum, we can get distracted by ministry too, putting all our efforts into working for God, that we forget to just BE with God, to let God into our hearts, minds, and souls and to be VULNERABLE to what God has to say.   Sometimes, these distractions can result in burn out.   And that’s not part of God’s plan, either.  Recall the many times Jesus would escape the crowds and his companions, to go away by himself to pray.  Recall the great deeds of power Jesus was able to perform when he returned because he had focused on his triune relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and on discerning his mission on earth.

Like Jesus, we all have to cultivate a healthy balance of the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual sides of ourselves and to be vigilant in keeping any and all destructive distractions at bay.

By choosing well, Jesus promises that our lives will be authentic witnesses to the Good News and to his unending love for all.

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