Marth and Mary
August 21 & 22 at Mary, Mother of Light Maronite Church, Tequesta, FL
1 Thessalonians 2, 1-13 + Luke 10, 38-42
My second assignment as a priest in 1971 was to a High School in Oklahoma City which, in those days, was owned and for the most operated by the Sisters of Mercy. I was 29 years old with shoulder-length red/blond hair reluctantly assuming the assignment the Bishop had insisted upon over my hesitation as Chaplain to the Sisters and Administrator and Faculty member. There were 38 sisters living in the house at that time. While it was, in retrospect, an important and formative time of my life, there were times when I felt like Job. I celebrated Mass 7 days a week for 38 Sisters of Mercy. Far too often Luke10, 38 would come up in the lectionary. Preaching this text in a convent with 38 sisters with an age range of 27 to 90 was something to be avoided. There was a Martha and Mary in every pew. I dreaded this text., but in time, even with the help of the Sisters, I’ve gotten a little deeper into it.
The heart of this story is found by turning this scene around. Forget about contrasting Martha and Mary. There is another figure in this story, the guest. Paying attention to the guest is more important than getting into some controversy over Martha’s behavior or Mary’s. Too often used by contemplatives, to justify their spirituality or life-style, we miss something more important.
Disciples of Jesus are always hospitable like both Martha and Mary. I can’t imagine that Jesus would have stopped there had it not been for Martha’s cooking. There is no reason to think that Martha threw down her apron and walked out of the kitchen. The focus for both Mary and Martha is Jesus, the guest. The story becomes then a reminder that we are all perpetual guests of a loving and divine host. As guests, our possessiveness and selfish attitude toward this world’s goods and resources are kept in check. We are guests on this earth, in this creation; guests of the Creator who has welcomed us and provided for us.
Just as at Cana’s wedding feast, the guest suddenly become the host. Those who welcome this divine guest will inevitably discover that the guest always becomes the host. It is Jesus who comes hungry to this home in Bethany, and he ends up feeding those who have welcomed him. He gets invited to a wedding, and he ends up providing the wine. What we learn from Luke’s Gospel today is that this divine guest still feeds us. It is the Word of God that provides nourishment for us, and a life devoted to hearing that word is first of all concerns. That guest on this earth and in this life is still here to feed us and becomes the very food of this Eucharist. The guest who is welcomed, the guest who coms hungry for us, still feeds us. It’s like that story of the woman at the well. He comes thirsty with no bucket, and ends up providing living water for the woman at that well. She is the one refreshed by his presence and his word.
I think this Gospel proposes that Martha and Mary should be seen as one person – the person who receives Jesus Christ. There is a balance proposed here, between dong and being, and a disciple of Jesus learns the difference. There is a call here: a call to the integration of work and play or of action and prayer. Having just told the story of Mercy in the Good Samaritan parable, Jesus now affirms that discipleship is not all about doing, but also about being; in this case, being hospitable, being good guests, and gracious hosts in the spirit of Abraham and the style of Jesus.
Now what we discover in this chapter of Luke’s Gospel is not just a lesson in hospitality, The lesson comes not from word, but from example. The stories of Jesus feeding crowds abound in the Gospel. His mandate to apostles: “Feed them yourselves” comes off the page into the face of those who always think someone else will or should take care of the hungry. The response of Jesus to the needs of those who came to him is never just “spiritual”. He raises a dead girl, and tells the parents, “Give her something to eat.” All through the Old Testament, God is the Divine host who feeds and sustains those who wander the wilderness. Once in their promised land, they always remained there as guests in God’s eyes. Their prayer and their feasts celebrated the Table God had set before them.
In Jesus, Israel’s divine host became incarnate, and the Old Testament quality of hospitality was seen in the images he used for the reign of God as a banquet and in the way he was found at dinners, feasts, and banquets with sinners, Pharisees, and folks like Martha and Mary. While Martha and Mary may seem to be the host, it is, in the end, Jesus who feeds them with his presence and his word. He went there hungry, and ends up feeding them with his presence. With that reminder from Luke’s Gospel, we gather here again and again to be fed by the one who gives us His flesh to eat. We are the guests here fed so that we might feed others so that no one will ever be hungry where disciples of Jesus gather in his name.