Tuesday, October 6, 2009

You Are Concerned And Upset About Many Things, But Only One Thing Is Necessary.

Today’s First Reading, like yesterday’s, is taken from the Book of Jonah (3:1-10):

When we left Jonah yesterday, he had been thrown into the sea by the sailors, swallowed up by a big fish, and spewed out onto the shore at a location not disclosed in the reading. Now we find that God has not forgotten the commission he had given to Jonah. He repeats his command that Jonah go to Nineveh. He wants Jonah to urge the people there to turn away from their evil ways, and turn back to God. This time Jonah is told to speak the words God will give him to say, not his own words.

This time, Jonah is obedient, and sets out for Nineveh, which was a very big city about 500 miles east of Jerusalem, on the Tigris River in Assyria (near the present city of Mosul in Iraq). The city itself was about eight miles across; but the officials of Nineveh also governed a large district surrounding the city proper. This district was about 50 miles across, and it would certainly have taken Jonah to walk from one side of the territory to the other.

On the first day, Jonah started walking into the city. When he stopped, he urged the people to repent, as the city was going to be destroyed by God in forty days. His message was a great shock to the people, who believed the words of the prophet. Realizing that they were in serious danger, they declared a fast. Everyone, from the youngest to the oldest, from the richest to the poorest, put on the traditional penitential robe of sackcloth (a type of rough burlap).

When the news reached the King of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal garments, covered himself in sackcloth, and sat down in the dust of the streets. He then issued a royal proclamation:

              "By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish."

When God saw what the King and the people of Nineveh had done, how they had turned from their evil ways, he had compassion upon them, and did not bring about the destruction that He had threatened.

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Today’s Gospel is taken from Luke (10:38-42): As Jesus and his disciples were on their way from Galilee to Jerusalem, they came to a village called Bethany, about two miles from the City of David, the home of Martha and Mary. While Martha was preparing a meal for her guests, Mary sat at the feet of Jesus, listening to his words. Martha came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"

 “Martha, Martha!” Jesus answered, “you are concerned and upset about many things, but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken away from her.”

This incident, which is found only in Luke, follows upon the story of the Good Samaritan which was yesterday’s Gospel reading. Both are illustrations of the Law as found in the Books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus. The parable of the Good Samaritan reminds us that we need to observe the second of the two Great Commandments: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Today’s Gospel reminds us of both Great Commandments: Martha in preparing food for Jesus and his companions exemplifies the Second; Mary’s choice to listen to Jesus’ teaching shows that “You shall love the Lord your God with all your mind and heart and might” comes first.

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