Image: Jesus in the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus (https://www.crossroadsinitiative.com).
‘Perhaps Lazarus sees the big picture’
Ordinary Sunday 16, Year C
Genesis 18:1-10a; Colossians 1:28; Luke 10:38-42
Paul addresses his letter to the Colossians, “Christ’s body, the church”.
He writes: “I became a minister of this church through the commission God gave me, to preach among you the word in its fullness … the mystery of Christ in you, the hope of glory. This is the Christ we proclaim while we admonish everyone and teach them in the full measure of wisdom, hoping to make everyone complete in our Saviour.”
The word in its fullness … the full measure of wisdom … In Luke’s Gospel, this fullness or wholeness is embodied by way of “divine visitation” – in baptisms, exorcisms, songs, dreams, intimate scenes and scandals.
In recent weeks, we’ve seen the fullness of joy in 72 disciples on return from field education (simplicity, hospitality) – their names inscribed in the holy Name.
We’ve seen the wholeness of the “good Samaritan” in concert with human and Earth others who, like the woman who pours out precious ointment upon the body of Jesus, model extravagant love, passionate compassion.
And now we see the full measure of wisdom in the house of Martha and Mary, who, with their (mute) brother Lazarus, offer hospitality (safety, nourishment) to Jesus.
It seems Luke tells this story to complete his gospel message – to affirm the goodness of Mary’s “hearing” and Martha’s “doing” – the goodness of friendship and family support.
It is unfortunate, then, that the divine visitation also serves to divide the sisters, and has played into the hands of those with an interest in limiting the gospel, including those who still seek to exclude women from full and equal partnerships.
In patriarchal/colonial contexts, sisters/resistors are frequently subject to strategies of division – portrayed as rivals, their differences and disagreements exaggerated.
The one thing needed is the complete gospel – the word in its fullness … the full measure of wisdom … “We all need to be both Mary and Martha” (Francis J. Moloney).
Perhaps Lazarus sees the big picture.
Mary, the younger sister, chooses the “better part” according to her capacities (we are all called to do that). Martha chooses to act on what she has learnt (we are all called to do that, too) – which is why the German Dominican Meister Eckhart discerns in Jesus’ reproof a sub-textual praise for Martha’s pluck and wisdom. A 13th-century legend sees Martha in modern-day France (it’s a long story!) where she subdues a dragon with holy water and a crucifix, and saves a terrified community.
Perhaps Lazarus sees the big picture.
Mary is a radical disciple who both attends to the text (hears/reads, interprets) and welcomes the teacher (values the gift of wisdom). Martha is a radical disciple who both attends to the teacher (feeds the hungry) and queries the text (engages the teaching).
Each in their own way is bold.
In pursuit of wisdom, we all get distracted by demands and tasks. We all neglect our co-workers. We all get lost in the moment. We are all prone to moralism and burn-out. In pursuit of wisdom, we all start somewhere. We all have capacities for love.
Help one another. Act, reflect, act again, reflect again, act …
When I was working at the youth refuge many years ago, I knew (gradually) that it was important to both attend to the young person before me and to keep an eye on the room – the musical chaos, the shifting mood, the comings and goings. I struggled to hold it together, to keep track.
I relied on others, not least the resident dog Collingwood, to set things right. I relied on others to critique and encourage (me), to affirm and forgive (me) – to help bring the work to completion.
“This is the Christ we proclaim while we admonish everyone and teach them in the full measure of wisdom, hoping to make everyone complete in our Saviour.” Amen.