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Homily for Sunday, July 22th Fr. Allen White, O.P. 

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In the diocese in which I live, a parish priest learned one Sunday morning that he was to be moved to another parish. Imagining, as we all do, that he would be greatly missed by his people who would be stunned by this irreparable loss; he decided to tell them as soon as he could so that they could come to terms with the shock, and approach the appropriate grief counselling agencies. Before the main Sunday Mass he broke the news to a distinctly unstunned congregation, ending his little speech with the phrase. "That same Jesus who first called me here has now called me elsewhere." As he went to begin the entrance procession he heard the cantor announced: "And now we will sing our opening hymn 'What a friend we have in Jesus.'" What was hurt to him was hope to his people.

It is those three words hurt, hope and friendship that are at the heart of today's readings. Friendship with the Lord is a disruptive experience. When you offer hospitality to the Lord you must not presume that your house or your heart can contain him. Today, Luke tells us, Jesus is on 'on the way'. He enters a village to begin, as often in Luke's Gospel, a mission to a household. It is a household of women, with no man around. The Messiah went to two daughters of Israel. It is Martha's house, her territory. She rules, as she makes clear. She uses the word 'me' or 'my' three times in these short verses. She is possessive, but already her territory is shrinking; the Lord has invaded it. As a result family ties are threatened, even her sister is escaping her control. Jesus, instead of condemning this disorder, endorses it, and even increases the destabilization. Mary has chosen the better part, he says. Mary's vocation is better than Martha's choice.

Martha has chosen another way. She is not really present, she is distractive by all the serving, literally she is "drawn in different directions", all at sea, wandering like the people of Israel in their pilgrimage through the Sinai. This confusion makes her approach Jesus impatiently. She wants to use him to regain control over her life and her territory. "Tell my sister", she says. Remind her of her place, her obligations, send her back to me, put and end to this foolish Exodus on which she has begun. Restore order. Jesus answers, with melancholy affection, using her name twice, as he does to Simon and to Saul when they cannot see who it is that is with them on the road. He tells her that she is weighed down by that anxiety which chokes the word and frustrates the purposes of the kingdom; she is burdened by that worry which falls on us when we try to shape the world to our own agenda. Martha has settled for choice over vocation: her choice over the Lord's call. He answers that it is Mary's call which shall not be taken away from her. Martha wished to offer hospitality to Jesus, but it is Mary who has truly welcomed the Word of God.

There are deeper rhythms in this story, rhythms which catch the melody of Israel's story. They are the rhytmn of hurt and hope. Israel is a community of 'voiced' hurt. The hurt of Israel is the driving force of the Exodus. We hear it throughout the Psalms, 'we cried out, hear us, save us, come to our aid', the shrill address of earth to heaven of which Martha's cry is an echo. But the Lord answers that hurt cry for help. He has an attentive ear for that hurt born of that disorder that works against full human existence. The Lord responds to the imperative of hurt, but it draws him to move Israel to a better alternative. Hurt is expressed but hope is returned.

God promises that he will bring his people into a land flowing with milk and honey. He will redeem their present and bring them into communion with himself in the land. Hope is subversive. God's promise relentlessly criticizes the present and displaces existing arrangements of power. Hope produces an alternative and transformed future. The hope the Lord offers in the Exodus shakes loose Israel's clinging to a fractured present, it proclaims that the present, even the one we delight in and take for granted, is in deep peril because God sees a reality which is beyond our domestic economics.

Martha voices her hurt, and the Lord hears it, but the answer she receives is the challenge to an Exodus, a vocation to take leave of her own present, to allow herself to be redeemed from the tyranny of the familiar and the trivial consolations of banal routine.

Jesus says Mary has chosen the better part. She has chosen him, God really present. She has broken with the false present. She has left her accustomed role, her place in the world, in order to listen. She is on the edge of the new promised land, the space of communion that is the Incarnate Word. She has embraced the hope and laid aside the hurt. She has found her true home. Martha cannot receive the Word because she is absent from home. As Meister Eckhart writes in one of his sermons: 'No-one ever wanted anything as much as God wants to bring us to knowledge of himself. God is always ready, but we are unready. God is near to us, but we are absent from him. God is in, we are out. God is at home we are abroad. The prophet says: 'God leads the just through narrow paths to the highway, that they may come into the open.' *

Mary came into the open. She dared to hope. Martha was not at home when the Lord came to call. In Martha hurt triumphed over hope.

(*) Sermon 16 of German Sermons, ed M O'C Walshe Vol II p. 169 puce

 

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