Niniveh, Martha and Mary

Tuesday of week 27 in Ordinary Time

Scripture Reading:

  • Jonah 3:1-10
  • Psalm 129:1-4,7-8
  • Luke 10:38-42

What does Niniveh have anything to do with Martha and Mary? But somehow Yesterday’s mass first reading speaks about Jonah preaching to Niniveh, while the Gospel tells story when Jesus was at Martha and Mary’s house. As I reflect on those words, I felt that one word connects the two stories, and that word is “repentance”.

In the story of Jonah preaching to Niniveh, I found one of the most beautiful and consoling words I have ever found in the Scripture:

“God saw their efforts to renounce their evil behaviour, and God relented”

What consoles me so much was that God sees our efforts to repent. Who has never struggle with sin? Many of us made resolutions years after years, from one week to another, or maybe from one confession to another confessions. But again, we fall again and again. However, God sees my effort. He sees your effort. And that matters to him.

What is interesting is that the efforts of the people of Niniveh is extremely externals that it is obvious even to a passer by. They changed their clothes to sack clothes, they stopped eating, they weeped. This reminds me also that the the externals is a reflection of the internals. If we truly put efforts to repent, it can be seen. How much effort then, have we put, to renounce our sinful habits? Does our effort translate to something real to some actions? Or is it just in our mind? If it is just in our mind, maybe we are just deceiving our selves. We thought we repent, and yet, we are not really repenting. Maybe going for a confession, which is something externals, has to be done! If the heart truly repents, what efforts have we done to repent?

But then the Gospel story reminds us that repentance is primarily not of the externals, but rather the internals. And I found Jesus words truly describe what repentance is all about:

“Mary … has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her”

Repentance is primarily choosing a better one. And indeed, it is a better one! Whenever I tried to imagine the scene of Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus while Martha was distracted with all the servings, I could see Mary who was close and stay with Jesus.  On the other hand, I see Martha who were too busy and distracted, and away from the Lord.

Isn’t sin about being distracted? Few of us would think Martha sinned at that moment. But sin is about separation, it is about being away. And we sin because we are distracted. We forgot the ultimate good and the fulfilment of our heart. We look too much to our dreams, our careers, our desires, our relationships, (and our gadgets these days). We forgot the one thing necessary… God. We seek happiness all in the wrong places.

But repentance is about choosing God! It is about sitting at his feet, listening to him, and being with him. Repentance is about being united with God, and that’s why “it is not to be taken from [her]”. Repentance leads us to a union where nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.

But just as in the first reading God saw the efforts of the people of Niniveh, so too Jesus saw the heart of Martha who was longing for him. And who could not feel the gentleness of Jesus voice when he called her, “Martha, Martha…”. So too today, I could hear him calling my name, and I hope you can hear his gentle voice calling your name too.


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