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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.' *
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