Defined by Grace
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 16th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, July 21, 2019:
"Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things...Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her." This familiar line from Luke’s Gospel that we just heard proclaimed has always bothered me a bit. It bothers me because in the minds of so many scholars and others over the centuries, this moment has become the defining moment in the life of St. Martha.
You see, I have a bit of a soft spot for St. Martha. I think it comes from being a well-named Thomas. Being a “Thomas” has always made me sensitive to the unfair treatment that Thomas the Apostle gets. For all eternity, Thomas has been defined by one single moment in his life and has since been known as Doubting Thomas. But, as I have mentioned before, he should really be called Faithful Thomas. His so-called doubt comes from the fact that he questions his fellow Apostles, not Jesus. If Jesus had truly appeared to them, then why are they still fearful, locked into the upper room? If Jesus had really appeared, why hadn’t they done what He asked? If Thomas doubted, he doubted them. But, once Jesus appears to Thomas, he utters one of the most beautiful statements of faith in all of Scripture: “My Lord and my God!” And tradition tells us that He took up the charge that Jesus gave him with such great fervor that he would travel as far as India to spread the Good News and eventually die a martyr’s death. This is Thomas the Faithful!
The same kind of thing happens in the life of Martha. Today’s brief passage gives us two seemingly opposed positions – Martha who is busy serving, and Mary who sits at the feat of Jesus and listens. We come away from this passage feeling as though Mary is right, and Martha is wrong; that Mary is holy, and Martha is worldly. Sadly, this has often been the defining moment of this Martha’s life too. Martha is a worrier, consumed with accomplishing tasks, not attuned to spiritual things like her sister.
Of course, the point that Jesus is making is how important it is for us to step aside from the busyness of our lives to just sit and listen to the Lord; to consciously take that time to be in God’s presence so that God can speak His word in the depths of our hearts, so that He can remind us of how precious we are in His sight. Martha of course, knows this too. In fact, just as we know doubting was not the end of the story for Thomas, and he would have his own redeeming moment and proclamation of faith, the same is true for Martha. When her brother Lazarus died, she welcomed Jesus who had come to mourn with her and Mary at the loss of their brother, and His friend. And, in that heavy moment of grief, sadness, perhaps even questioning how this happened, Martha, like Thomas, makes a great proclamation of faith. She says, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ. The One who has come into the world.” Again, one of the greatest proclamations of faith in the Bible.
For us, the Bible is really two stories. First it is God’s story – the story that tells us who God is, how He works, the depths to which He loves us. But, it is also our story – it tells us who we are, what we can be like, and how we can grow in holiness and closeness to our God. And it often tells us all of this through the lives and experiences of people in the Bible; people we can connect with. And this is why I love Martha, and Thomas, so much. They are like us. We connect with these two saints because we can see something of ourselves in them. Like Thomas, we can sometimes be filled with doubt and uncertainty. And like Martha, we can sometimes spend more time doing the things that keep us busy, rather than slowing down and taking the time to gather our resources, renew our spirits, rest our bodies, and commune with our God. And like them both, perhaps we’ve experienced moments in our life when others want to define us by a single mistake, or a single moment.
But, if we can be like Martha and Thomas in their less-than-perfect moments, then perhaps we can be like them too in their moments of great faith. Thomas and Martha are two very normal, human people. They are both full of all of the same emotions, reactions, and weakness that we all struggle with from time to time. And yet, they also possess the potential for tremendous holiness and grace. They have within them the ability to overcome those moments and allow God’s grace and holiness to shine through their lives in profound ways. And, my friends, the same is true for you and for me. No single moment, no failure, no sin, can ever define our lives or who we are because we are defined by God’s grace and its power to overcome anything in our lives. We are defined by our call to holiness.
What changed everything for both Martha and Thomas; what helped them overcome their normal human weakness, was an encounter with Jesus. In His presence, in His eyes, they gained a strength that brought out incredible holiness for all the world to see. Today, let the same be true for you and me. Today, we encounter our living God in His holy Word proclaimed. Today, before our very eyes, mere bread and wine will be transformed into His True and Abiding Presence in our midst. As we once again receive that Sacred Presence in the Eucharist, let our encounter with Jesus strengthen us, change us, transform us into the holiness that God calls forth from all those who follow Him. As we go forth from this place, let us say with Thomas, “My Lord and my God.” Let us say with Martha, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the One who has come into the world.”
Let us, like them, live the saintly lives we have all been called to.
May the Lord give you peace.
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