I have a vivid memory of a pop quiz. It was given in the 5th grade. Typical of these quizzes, we were instructed to read everything before beginning.
I had only read the first few questions before panic struck in. These were tough. The clock was ticking. I couldn’t waste time reading the rest. I had to start working. Struggling anxiously for the next 10 minutes, I became angry with my teacher. Why would she give us this test? Why so little time? With sweaty palms, hasty scribbles, and a bitter heart, I swayed between self-doubt and thoughts of revenge. But, caught in the throws of this academic crucible, racing to finish the impossible, I never completed the first instruction: “read everything first.” If I had, I would have read at the bottom: “Thank you for reading through the exam. Do not answer any of the questions above. Put down your pencil and wait quietly.” It was a test on following instructions. There was need of only one thing. I had missed it.
Blessed Mother Teresa famously said “God does not require that we be successful, only that we be faithful.” This theme occurs repeatedly in the scriptures. In our first reading this weekend (Gen 18:1-10), Abraham is visited by God in the appearance of three persons (though Abraham addresses them as one: “Sir”). Welcoming these divine visitors, Abraham rushes to be hospitable. His wife makes the rolls. A servant dresses the meat. Abraham prepares curds and milk. Finally, after waiting on them, he is given the assurance that Sarah will bear him a son. But this is nothing new. God has promised this multiple times before. The problem is, Abraham has struggled to believe it.
God did not visit Abraham for his hospitality. In fact, he allows it merely as a concession: “Very well, do as you have said.” God does not want his anxious service. He wants his trust. Abraham need not prove himself in any other way than by fidelity. It is the one thing necessary.
We find the same in the gospel (Lk 10:38-42). Martha is “worried about many things,” made anxious in her hospitality for Jesus. But there is need of only one thing. Mary has discovered it. There is need only to attend to his word. There is no need to prove ourselves to him. Fidelity should be our only anxiety.
Faithfulness will save a lot of time and wasted energy. With that pop quiz I wanted to prove myself. But I only proved myself negligent. I wanted to succeed. But my efforts to succeed only secured my failure. Like that test, there is need of only one thing with God: to listen to his word.
Father George K. Nixon serves as assistant pastor at St. Philip Parish, Greenville. Ordained in 2011, he holds a licentiate in sacred theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. “Verbum Domini” is a series of Father Nixon’s reflections on the Scriptures.