17 Jul 2016
“‘Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10:42)
In the name …
We don’t know much of anything about the two sisters Martha and Mary, but they’re named in the Gospel and that gives them significance. We don’t know how or why, but they were close to Jesus. The past two Sundays we talked about the 72 disciples who were the anonymous followers of Jesus; and now we hear about these two others who were close to Him, but who were not part of Jesus’ named disciples. We encounter these sisters on two separate occasions in two different Gospels. This appears to be more than coincidence. One of them is the story often read at funerals about the raising of Lazarus from the dead, and the other one is what we read this morning.
From today’s Gospel we hear that Martha invites Jesus into her home. We can assume that Martha and Mary are close, and whether she was invited or invited herself Mary comes over too. Martha is occupied with hostess responsibilities. I’m sure she would have welcomed the help, but her sister Mary instead decides to sit down with the other disciples and listen to Jesus. What a woman was supposed to do 2,000 years ago was what Martha was doing, definitely not what Mary presumed to do. Mary thought herself worthy of sitting with the men and joining in their conversation about God. This says a lot about Mary, but it also reveals a lot about Jesus. He welcomes her into the group. He includes her in the discussion. And when Jesus had the opportunity to set things back in order when Martha complained, Jesus instead stood-up for Mary and her presumption to sit among the men. Both Mary and Jesus were breaking down social barriers. They were creating a new and radical example of inclusion. That it was meant to be an imitated example by future generations may be the reason behind the words: “It will not be taken away from her.” This is the kind of society that church should be.
Now we can’t be sure if the other Martha and Mary story has any connection with this one, but they do seem to flow from the same tradition. In the Lazarus story (John 11), we are told that Martha and Mary are his sisters. I hope you know the story. When Jesus finally arrives at the grave, Martha rushes out to meet Him, but surprisingly Mary stays put. It is Martha who this time has amazingly powerful statements to make. She testifies to her belief in Jesus not only as Messiah, but as the Son of God. In another tradition, when Peter makes this startling statement, an impressed Jesus says, “‘On this rock I will build my church.’” (Matt. 16:18) When the story is about Peter’s faith, it is used to justify position and authority. When Martha says it, well, we choose to treat it differently.
If we’re allowed to use our imaginations, we can visualize a Martha transformed by the time she entertained Jesus in her home. Jesus said to a busy and preoccupied woman, “‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’” Since the Martha we meet in the Lazarus story is now filled with such faith and knowledge, I think it’s safe to assume that after Jesus’ words to her in her home, that she let the dinner grow cold, she left the dust in the corners, and that Martha sat down beside her sister and also listened and learned with the other disciples. Martha, like Mary, began to set different priorities in her life, and began to see things differently, to see things that others could not.
I know that not all of you have access to the parish’s Facebook page, but on Thursday evening I posted a short message about Pokémon Go. This is some interactive game you play while traveling around using your Smartphone. It’s become so immediately popular that the value of Nintendo increased by $7 billion in one week’s time. By looking at your Smartphone as you travel around, the player can see the Pokémon characters in their alternate reality. Holy Name of Jesus is a hotspot in this game. I’m not exactly sure what that means, but I know I’ve seen people hovering around outside of the church with their phones. Right now these Pokémon things are all around us doing whatever Pokémon things do, but without a Smartphone we can’t see them. So anyway, I posted this message about the game on our website and I’ve never seen such a reaction. We’re closing in on 500 hits.
And in the Facebook post I mentioned that our alternate reality is pretty cool too. We can see things that others can’t. Others may see a summer day; while we’re outside this morning celebrating Mass I hope we can see the Creator of this summer day. Others may hear a preponderance of bad news. Last week it was Minnesota, Baton Rouge and Dallas. This week it is Nice, France. The American flag is now constantly at half-mast. We’re going to have to do something about that. It’s giving too much credit to bad people. But even if week after week there is bad news, we can still hear the Good News, the gospel. In today’s reading from Colossians, we hear “Paul” tell us that even as he suffers in prison, he rejoices because he knows that he is doing the work of Christ. (1:24) He can see the good even through the bad. This is the power of our alternate reality.
There are all kinds of distractions in the world that will try and prevent us from finding the time to find Jesus. When this happens, think back to this morning’s Gospel. Think back to Jesus slowly shaking His head, with a slight smile on His lips, as He says, “Martha, Martha,” and then put our name in the place of hers. Jesus broke down all sorts of barriers to bring people closer to Him and to God. What a shame it would be if we still stayed away because we just couldn’t make the time to see Jesus. Half of the lazy, hazy days of summer are over, but there’s another half to go. Try and make the time to see the alternate reality that faith in Jesus makes visible. If Pokémon Go can be such a huge success, then why can’t our faith? Let us choose the “better part” as Jesus says today, and may this be our prayer in His most holy of names. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo