Today’s Scripture accounts might read something like this: local family is stunned when, out of the blue, a stranger hands them a check for five million dollars! When interviewed later about why they received this gift, they said perhaps it is because they had been praying for some way to pay huge medical bills that threatened bankruptcy. By the way, they never did get the name of their benefactor.
An old, old man in his nineties and his wife in her 80s had long since given up conceiving a child who could carry on the family name. Three strangers show up one day and the old man asks them to stay
awhile and rest while he prepares a special meal for them. They stay. Later, about to continue on, one of the strangers out of the blue promises that when they return in a year, the wife will have born a son—an heir to countless descendants and a gift far more valuable than gold!
Two sisters and their brother have befriended an iterant rabbi from up north. He and some of his band drop in unexpectedly one afternoon, hungry and tired. The elder sister busies herself preparing a meal, but the younger sister doesn’t help. Instead, against all conventions, she plops down among the men to listen as the rabbi teaches. The irate older sister complains, but the rabbi does not take her side. Surprisingly, he suggests that the elder sister is overly worried about many things, when there is only need of one thing—to listen to what he has to share.
Of course, you know who the actors are in these vignettes and who is the gift-giver! God instructs us, over and over, to open our hearts, our homes, and our purses in hospitality to those who grace our doorsteps. Share what we have with others in need, and God will reward our efforts in ways we cannot imagine. It’s not a tit for tat exchange, however. It’s not “if I do X, then God will do Y”. We don’t control God by our own actions–good or evil. It’s precisely the other way around. God gifts us with both the means and the desire (call it grace) to love others as we love ourselves. Should we fail to love ourselves sufficiently, God shows us the crucified Christ as an indication of how much we are loved. When we share ourselves with others, the satisfaction becomes its own reward and we are
encouraged to open up even more. This is a familiar exhortation by Pope Francis—that we serve those living in the margins, look for strangers who may become friends, and encourage immigrants.
Today’s Gospel account holds another important message, namely, that neither Martha nor Mary is behaving inappropriately. Rather, according to John Shea, theologian and story teller, the two sisters represent complementary, not conflicting roles; listening to Jesus is part and parcel of serving Jesus; they are two sides of the same coin and should not be separated.
Duality, according to Fr. Richard Rohr, is not an either-or proposition, but both-and! The Martha-Mary story is about having both an inner state of consciousness (Mary, the contemplative/prayerful one) and outer consciousness (Martha, doing/acting/serving). These two states of awareness are NOT therefore merged-into-one state, but co-exist as two, complementary conditions which mutually enhance the other.
Quoting Shea again, “…God is both inside and outside, a power that sustains our personal being (pause) and a summons that calls us to cooperate in building a just world. When we…[discover] that all things exist and are suffused by divine life, we…wake up to our
identity as Mary-Martha.”
If there is one message for me in today’s readings, it is this: God nurtures our spiritual development through graces unearned, but freely given. At the same time, God directs us to act charitably toward one another as a sign of human solidarity and as a way to bring God’s love to others. This is what the Cross of Christ is all about!