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Saint Martha – Readings

Commentary on 1 John 4:7-16; Ps 33; John 11:19-27 or Luke 10:38-42

There is a choice of Gospel readings, each one featuring Martha. The first is from Luke’s gospel and describes an occasion when Jesus went to visit the house of the two sisters, Mary and Martha, at their house in Bethany. It was not far from Jerusalem and it seems that Jesus was a regular visitor there.
On this occasion we are told that Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to him. Martha, on the other hand, was fussing about in the kitchen getting the meal ready. After a while, Martha complained (was there a slight hint of jealousy and resentment here?) that her sister was leaving all the work to her. “Tell her to help me.”
“Martha, Martha,” replied Jesus, “you are anxious and worried about many things. Thereis need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” Jesus had said elsewhere that his followers should not be anxious or worried. “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?… Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” (As Fr Anthony de Mello used to say: “Why worry? If you worry, you will die. If you don’t worry, you will die. So why worry?”)
Martha gives the impression that Mary is just sitting there doing nothing. But, in fact, she is listening to Jesus, listening to the Word of God. Many of us are very busy, run off our feet from dawn to dusk. But what are we busy about? What was Martha busy about? We need to stop and listen, as Mary did. Busy-ness is not a virtue. The important thing is to be active about the right things. And to know what is the right thing to do, we have to stop and listen.
The alternative Gospel reading is from John. It is story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus was the brother of Mary and Martha. Jesus had been told some days before that Lazarus was seriously ill but did not immediately respond. By the time Jesus reached Bethany, Lazarus was already dead for four days.
When the sisters heard that Jesus had arrived, Martha, typically, rushed out to greet him while Mary stayed mourning in the house. As soon as she saw Jesus she told him that if Jesus had been there earlier, Lazarus would not have died. But she was confident that any prayer Jesus would make to his Father would be answered.
“Your brother will rise,” Jesus said to her. “Yes,” replied Martha, expressing her faith in a future life, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” In so speaking she draws from Jesus one of the great sayings of John’s gospel: “I AM the Resurrection and the Life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” In other words, those who believe in Jesus as Lord and follow his Way immediately enter a life that will never end, although the body, of course, will pass away.
This, in turn, draws a great profession of faith from Martha: “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” It is a statement on a par with that of Peter at Caesarea Philippi earlier on.
And that, of course, is what this whole chapter is about. Jesus, the Son of God, as the Source of Life. It is also a preparation for Jesus’ own death from which he will rise in glory and be reunited with his Father. The same future is promised to us.
The First Reading is from the First Letter of John. It is one of the most central passages in all of the New Testament. It is about love being at the very centre of our lives. Love here is agape (’), a very special kind of love. It can be defined as an unconditional reaching out for the well-being of the other person. It is the love that God extends to us. It is the love that motivated all that Jesus did and said. It has to be at the heart of all we do and say. It is the essence of Christian living. The word agape or some form of it occurs 16 times in the short passage of today’s reading. We are to love in this way because that is what God does. It is what Jesus did. When we love in this way we become like God. And wherever this kind of love is expressed, God is there, because God IS this love.
We Christians do not have any monopoly on this love. It can be found in all kinds of people. But let us make sure it is the driving force in our own lives, not just for our own sake but for the sake of everyone else. “By this will all people know you are my followers that you have love (agape) one for another.” It is the best thing that could be said about any of us and the only thing that matters.


Saint Martha

St Martha (Memorial)

Martha was the sister of Mary and Lazarus and lived in Bethany, a town not far from Jerusalem.
Jesus seems to have been a regular visitor and, on one occasion, he gently reproved Martha for her complaint that her sister Mary was not helping her in the preparation of the meal. The words of Jesus were later represented as indicating the excellence of the contemplative life, represented by Mary, over the cares of the active life, represented by Martha. In the Gospel of John, Martha also appears on the occasion of the raising of Lazarus, when the expression of her faith in Jesus and his divine power was the occasion for the great statement, “I am the resurrection and the life” and for the miracle of Lazarus’ return to life. John also records that Jesus was again in their house six days before his last Passover that Martha was serving the meal. Basically, these three events are all that we really know about Martha.
But, as in the case of many Gospel personalities, legends grew up around Martha and her family. Mary, too, in some of these legends was identified with Mary Magdalen, an interpretation not normally supported by modern commentators. So there was a medieval legend that Martha, Mary Magdalen and Lazarus were responsible for the evangelisation of the district of Provence in France. Martha’s were said to have been discovered and put in a shrine at Tarascon in 1187.
Pictures of Martha reflect both the Gospel stories and the legends. She is invoked as the patron of housewives and lay sisters in religious congregations. She is shown with a ladle, a broom, or a bunch of keys.
She is also represented with a dragon, which she was supposed to have tamed at Tarascon by sprinkling it with holy water. She then wrapped her sash around its neck before bring it to Arles where it was killed. She is also represented in scenes of the raising of Lazarus, for example, in the Romanesque sculpture at Chichester cathedral in England.

Tuesday of week 17 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Jer 14:17-22

This passage was written during a period of death and famine in Jerusalem preceding the Babylonian captivity in 587 BC. It is also a response to Yahweh’s anger against false prophets who are raising expectations among the people that they are not going to experience “sword, famine and pestilence”. In fact, they are going to experience all these things. Jeremiah, as a true prophet, will not raise such expectations but, however unpopular his words, warn them of what is coming – and why. This won’t make him very popular; real prophets seldom are.

As written, however, today’s passage is another lovely reading today full of compassion and tenderness. There is no anger in God’s words today against his people. Rather he is presented as deeply upset over their sufferings.

“Tears flood my eyes… since a crushing blow falls on the daughter of my people.” The ‘daughter’ is Jerusalem. Everywhere God sees people in the countryside killed by the sword and in the city sick with hunger. Even the prophets and priests, who would normally be supported by the people, are reduced to foraging for food “in a land they know not”. All are at their wits’ end.

Jeremiah then expresses his own distress at what is happening and wonders what the Lord is doing about it. “Have you rejected Judah altogether?… Why have you struck us down without hope of cure?”

It is the cry of a people deep in despair at their never-ending sufferings.

“We were hoping for peace – no good came of it!

 We wait for a time of healing – but terror comes instead!”

At the same time, the prophet acknowledges that his people are in no way innocent. They have brought their own tribulations on themselves. “We do confess our wickedness… we have indeed sinned against you.”

But he reminds the Lord that they are his own people and, for his own Name’s sake, he prays that they not be rejected. “Remember your covenant with us and break it not.” Their suffering and shame somehow reduces the glory of their God, especially in the eyes of Gentiles. Who could honour a God who allows his people to suffer in this way?

But it takes two to make a covenant and its observance depends on both sides keeping their promise. He is their God but they are his people and must show it by their behaviour. This they have miserably failed to do.

The prophet concludes by appealing to the unique power of their God. “Can any of the pagan Nothings make it rain? Can the heavens produce showers?” We remember the challenge that Elijah made to the priests of Baal about breaking a drought. Only Yahweh could bring the longed-for rain.

“Oh, our God, you are our only hope,

 since it is you who do all this.”

We see here, on the one side, the picture of the tender God who cares so deeply for his people. This was all so graphically illustrated by the life of Jesus, our God incarnate. We must never forget it.

On the other side, during times of tragedy, pain, loss or distress it is easy for us to wonder if our God really does care that he allows such terrible things to happen to us or to our loved ones. But it is precisely at such times we need to be aware of the closeness of God’s love to us. His love for us was most clearly shown as Jesus hung dying in terribly agony and shame on the Cross.

“God did not spare his own Son” and Jesus himself cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The words died on his lips and were followed by total acceptance when he said, “It is finished” and he surrendered his life into his Father’s hands. That was the moment of supreme love, the moment of new life and glory.

Tuesday of week 17 of Ordinary Time – Gospel

Commentary on Matthew 13:35-43

Today we have an interpretation of the parable of the wheat and the weeds or darnel. It begins by telling us that Jesus left the crowds and went to “the house”. This is the nameless place where Jesus is at home with his disciples. As we suggested earlier, it is the place for the ‘insiders’, those who are close to Jesus in the sense of following him and accepting his way and is a symbol of where communities of Christians gathered in the early Church. Here Jesus is alone with his own disciples, away from the crowd.

His disciples ask for an explanation of the parable about the wheat and the weeds. Likely enough, what follows is less the actual words of Jesus than a reflection of the early Christian community applying the parable to their own situation. The parable, which basically makes one point, is now turned into an allegory where each part has a symbolic meaning of its own.

The sower is Jesus himself;

the field is the world;

the good seed represents the subjects of the Kingdom;

the darnel, the subjects of the evil one;

the enemy who sowed the weeds, the devil;

the harvest is the end of the world;

the reapers are the angels.

Whereas in the original parable the emphasis seems to be more on the necessary and unavoidable coexistence of good and bad within the Christian community, the emphasis here is more on what will happen at the end: the punishment of the wicked and the reward of the good.

Let us pray that we may be found among the good seed of the Kingdom. We do that by opening ourselves fully to Jesus our King and Lord and following the way he asks us to follow.


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