To listen to today’s homily, select the audio file below:
This Sunday at Mass we read from the Gospel of Luke about the visit of Jesus to Martha and Mary.
It’ s hard for us to keep the gospels separate and let each evangelist tell the story he wants to tell, and so when we hear about Martha and Mary in Luke’s gospel, we can’t help but think about the Martha and Mary in John’s gospel, who live in Bethany, whose brother Lazarus dies and whom Jesus will raise from the dead.
In John’s gospel Martha seems to shine, as she runs to meet Jesus and expresses her faith when her brother dies:
“’Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.’
“Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.’
“Jesus told her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live,kand everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”*lShe said to him, ‘Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.’” (John 11, 21-27)
You can’t ask for a stronger expression of faith than that, can you?
But Luke presents the two women differently in his gospel. So let’s hear his story. This is the only mention Luke makes of Martha and Mary in his gospel. It’s all he tells us about them. He doesn’t say they live in Bethany or that they have a brother named Lazarus who died and was raised.
No, this story is part of Luke’s journey narrative of Jesus on his way to Jerusalem. Luke wants to tell us that Jesus the prophet is making his way to Jerusalem and when he enters your house you should listen to him. That’s what Mary does, she listens to him. Martha is too concerned with taking care of things and she misses what he says.
I suppose we can say that like Martha we can get so caught up with what we’re doing that we miss what Jesus the prophet wants to say to us. We might be doing very good things, but we all need to listen more. We might be the best people, but even the best people may not listen enough.
Still, I find it hard not to praise Martha as we listen to Luke’s gospel. St. Augustine obviously had a soft spot for her. He says that Martha cared for the “Word made flesh,” who was hungry and thirsty, tired and in need of human care and support. “She longs to share what Mary enjoys, his presence, his wisdom and his gifts. And she will find her desires fulfilled.
“Martha, if I may say so, you will find your service blessed and your work rewarded with peace. Now you are much occupied in nourishing the body, admittedly a holy one. But when you come to the heavenly homeland you will find no traveller to welcome, no one hungry to feed or thirsty to give drink, no one to visit or quarrelling to reconcile, no one dead to bury.”
“No, there will be none of these tasks there. What you will find there is what Mary chose. There we shall not feed others, we ourselves shall be fed. What Mary chose in this life will be realized there in full. She was gathering only fragments from that rich banquet, the Word of God. Do you wish to know what we will have there? The Lord himself tells us when he says of his servants, Amen, I say to you, he will make them recline and passing he will serve them.”
At a wedding banquet some years ago, a little girl named Chelsea, a flower girl at the wedding, came up and asked if I wanted to see her walk on her heels. And she proceeded to show me how well she could do it.
Then she leaned over and said. “ Could I ask you something?’” I said “Sure.” She said “ What was God doing about a million years ago?”
Well, I had to think for a while about that. Then I said something like “A million years ago, God was taking care of the sun in the sky, so that it could shine bright every day. And God was counting all the stars. God was making sure there were enough animals around, like giraffes. About a million years ago, God was taking care of the world and everybody in it, and loved doing it.”
Children ask the best questions, questions that make us think about things we take for granted or maybe we’ve stopped wondering about. Or worse, we may think we know all the answers.
Some of the questions Jesus was asked are like that. “What does God want us to do?” Jesus is asked in today’s gospel. He answered; “God wants you to love him with all your heart, and all your mind, and all your soul. And he wants you to love your neighbor as yourself.”
A curious child wouldn’t let it go at that. “What does loving God with all your heart, and all your mind and all your soul mean?” “How do you do that?” “”What’s does loving your neighbor like yourself mean?” “Who is my neighbor anyway?”
We should never stop asking those questions either. Questions about God and about love are big questions that open the windows of our minds to a bigger world and the way we live in it. They can make us grow.
I suppose that’s why Jesus told us that only by becoming a child will we enter the kingdom of heaven. Don’t lose the sense of wonder a child has. Don’t lose the curiosity of a child. Don’t lose the imagination of a child.
I think this is true especially in religious matters. “ I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.” What does that mean? “I believe in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.” What does that mean?
We need a childlike curiosity and imagination when we approach stories from scripture. My last blog was about an artist who tells the story of Martha and Mary and Jesus in Bethany. He had a wonderful childlike imagination. Take a look at the way at the way he tells that great story.
God meets us through the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. It’s a wonderful story. Let’s not make it too small or forget it.
The wonderful story of the death and resurrection of Lazarus helps us appreciate the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Lazarus belongs to an influential family that welcomed Jesus to their home in Bethany, a village about two miles from Jerusalem. Martha and Mary were his sisters. Jesus stayed with them when he visited the Holy City.
When Lazarus died some days before the Passover, Jesus had left Jerusalem because of threats to his life and was staying in the safety of the Transjordan, the region where John the Baptist had baptized. Notified of his friend’s death, Jesus returned to Bethany, unconcerned for himself.
Death in its many forms was what Jesus came to take away, our gospel wants us to understand, and the dead Lazarus was a sign of what he wishes to do for all humanity. Lazarus was his friend, but Jesus, the Word made flesh, befriends the whole human race.
In the stirring conclusion of today’s gospel, Jesus calls the dead Lazarus from the tomb and “the dead man came out,” bound with the burial cloths that claimed him for death. “Untie him and let him go,” Jesus says. Those powerful, hopeful words are said to us too. We are called, not to die, but to live.
Later, on Calvary Jesus himself becomes our sign. A painful death does not claim him, nor will the grave hold him. He is our hope.
The same hope nourished Paul of the Cross: “ You ask me how I’m doing. I’m more sick than well and full of ailments. I can hardly write this…(but) I find it very good. Bearing the chains, the ropes, the blows, the scourges, the wounds, the thorns, the cross and death of my Savior, I fly to the bosom of the Father, where the gentle Jesus always is, and I allow myself to be lost in his immense Divinity.” (Letter 1925)
Like Martha, the sister of Lazarus, O Lord,
I believe you are the Resurrection and the Life.