The feast of St. Martha
Frequently in scripture we give Peter or Paul, or even James and John a lot of credit in their apostolic zeal. Yet in my reading it is Jeremiah who continually stands out as a man of conviction, driven to be true to God’s word even if it means being unpopular, disrespected, and even hated.
Recall early in the first chapter of the book of Jeremiah God speaks directly to Jeremiah saying, “I have dedicated you to be a prophet to the nations. I appointed you.” The Lord continues in verse 9, I place my words in your mouth!” And it is clear that Jeremiah’s purpose in life is to be the voice of the Lord, to speak on behalf of God. This is an awesome responsibility and one which will lead to some very unpopular speeches by the prophet. His words will be challenging, even threatening. And the prophet will be treated with hostility, brutality, to the point he will be hunted down. And Jeremiah will continue to speak these powerful orations even if it means his life.
Surprisingly, in John’s gospel it is a woman who is the prophetic voice. It is Martha, not Peter in John’s Gospel that acknowledges the messiahship of Jesus. And similar to Jeremiah, her acknowledgment and praise of Jesus isn’t done in the context of the most wonderful day in her life. It is done on one of the saddest days when Lazarus, whom she loves so deeply, has died.
Both of these readings the prophetic voice finds ways to give praise to God in amidst gloom and even doom. And neither of them are merely Band-Aids which say, “Well lets be optimistic and look on the brighter side.” They both enter deeply into the suffering and hopelessness and reinterpret who God is and what God can do in these situations.
Today, on the feast of St. Martha, I think we can draw courage from this woman who personally knew the redemption of Christ. Jesus challenges her to put her hope, not in some future event, but in him in the present moment. I think this is important. For frequently I find people who believe God did mighty and creative things in the past and can believe God will have mighty acts in the future, but really struggle to see God in the today. And if God does act today, they tend to see God in those things that they deem to be “worthy”: a blooming flower, a smiling child. Martha’s challenge to us is to see and trust in the here and now, even when we are having a bad day. Even in the midst of sadness and sorrow, can we discover a redeeming messiah? Jeremiah re-affirms this message, asking us to find some way to give praise to God even in hours of darkness. So perhaps we are left with two questions: Where do you see God today? And how in your own way do you give praise to this Divine one?
Fr. David Colhour, C.P. is the pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Louisville, Kentucky.