Martha and Mary – who chose the better part?
Our Lord’s commending Mary is a clear statement that contemplation beats activism. Not that practical work, of which St Martha is patron, has no place, only such work shouldn’t eclipse the priority of resting in the Lord.
The preacher’s danger - my danger especially - is Mary’s. In thinking out and handing on what should be we priests run more risk of neglecting to act out our faith in good works. As if saying what’s right is complete without doing it. So many scriptures warn how faith without works is like a flabby muscle needing strengthening by exertion.
Our Lord’s favouring Mary is less of a challenge to Christian thinkers and contemplatives than to Christian activists who forget to root their good works in prayer. It's an English heresy - Christianity is doing good, as if that were unique to Christianity. When we abide in God, God abides in us, steering our lives towards fruitful action, action that points people back to him
God desires mortals to have intimacy with himself - this is the central truth of Christianity.
I wonder if you saw on television the first pictures from the new James Webb Space Telescope? What beauty! Yet even with binoculars or naked eyes we can look up in awe at the night sky, discovering facets of the moon and planets and stars beyond these. We look up at them and think, the God who made the immensity of the cosmos desires intimacy with mortals!
We heard in the epistle from Colossians of the majesty of Christ ‘in [whom] all things in heaven and earth were created…’ (Colossians 1v15-28)
In the Gospel His Majesty, Our Blessed Lord, addresses us through his rebuke to a dear friend:
‘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’ (Luke 10v42)
God desires to have union with us, intimate union, heart to heart.
Today’s scripture ponder the majesty and yet the availability of God.
How is this intimacy brought to us?
On God’s side by the gift of the Spirit - on our side, we receive his friendship by humility and expectancy.
On God’s Side - how can God be one with us? The Maker of the stars hold me close, answer my prayers, guide me, free me from fear, heal me, forgive me? God is after all different.
The answer is by the Holy Spirit who is God and who through Christ brings God in his fullness to fill my heart.
The ocean is no less for filling a pool. So it is with God, as St Paul explains to the Corinthians: ‘the Spirit searches the depths of God… (and) we have received the Spirit… who… interprets spiritual truth’ (1 Corinthians 2:10)
On my side intimacy with God is established as a gift that is welcomed.
By humility and by expectancy… the two balancing Christian virtues commended by St. Francis de Sales.
To be humble like its etymology ‘humous - of the earth’ is readiness to see our nothingness before God and our less than nothingness through sin.
Humble and, besides that, expectant on God, confident in God.
St. Therese of Lisieux lived as a nun in the late 19th century when she pondered the invention of the electric lift. We have her Story of a Soul, a Christian classic, read with profit across Christian traditions, first commended to me by a Baptist minister. In her story Therese tells of her confidence God would make her a Saint. As surely as we enter an electric lift to be raised effortlessly to great height we can put our whole life into God’s hands seeking to be made holy. This is her so-called Little Way.
Intimacy with God is God’s gift by his Spirit. It is welcomed by humility and expectancy.
The eucharist is the great parable and seal of all of this...here God gives his Spirit, his own Life, par excellence… here we come empty-handed, in total humility before the Lord and yet with expectancy...
‘Lord I am not worthy...but only say the word’
Ronald Rolheiser in his book ‘Forgotten among the Lilies’ writes: ‘Perhaps the most useful image of how the Eucharist functions is the image of a mother holding a frightened, tired and tense child. In the eucharist God functions as a mother. God picks us up; frightened, tired, helpless, complaining, discouraged and protesting children, and holds us to her heart until the tension subsides and peace and strength flow into us’
Such is the intimacy we are privileged to share this morning and day by day in the Lord’s Presence.
‘There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her’ Luke 10.42
‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him’ John 6.56