A Story of Transforming Grace
Martha and Mary figure large in our religious imaginations. Luke gives us this first meeting, but John will show us two more times when Martha and Mary are with Jesus. Today’s reading opens up a larger meditation upon the working of grace in the lives of these two sisters.
This story of hospitality stands in contrast to the opening story of Luke 10, where the Samaritans refuse to welcome to Jesus. We will meet Mary who welcomes the words of the Word of God. But what do we see first? We see Martha. We could say that she is "Out There". She welcomes Jesus, she calls to his attention, and probably to everyone else, that her sister, Mary, is not doing her share of the work.
We jump to the next meeting of the sisters, in John’s Gospel, the great sign of the raising of Lazarus. When Jesus goes to Bethany Mary stays at home, but Martha goes to meet him. She does not hide her feelings of disappointment and sorrow in the least as she says to Jesus, "Had you been here my brother would never have died."
We may well have considered the psychology at work between the two sisters or decided who is our favorite, and we can agree that Martha and Mary are quite different. There does not seem to be a war between the two, but one could imagine that Lazarus lived amidst a bit of tension.
Then, in conclusion John shows us a beautiful family picture. Tension is gone, there is a new freedom and the grace of Jesus has grown each person to a greater stature. The banquet celebrates Lazarus’ return from the dead. Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with rich oil drying them with her hair; Martha serves. It is a picture of reconciliation. No complaints, no reluctance to come out and be with Jesus, no words. Martha does what she does best, Mary too, as she has taken in God’s word and responds now fittingly, warmly. Lazarus probably just smiled and ate. Grace has come to this family and worked among them. Things are different because they have welcomed Jesus. As we put the whole story together we see it took some time, there were tears, dying and rising, the humanness of anger being transformed into tenderness, and service, no quick meal this time but a banquet. Grace is at work.
Today in the Passionist family is the anniversary of the death of Father Theodore Foley, CP who died in Rome in 1976 after a short illness. Fr. Theodore was serving as the General of the Passionist Community.
He has received the title, ‘Servant of God’ and his cause for sainthood has been introduced to the Church.
Theodore, was a soldier who stood beneath the banner of the Cross, and like Mary, he reached out in his humanness to comfort Our Lord in his Passion and to comfort those who were suffering the Passion in their lives. Like Martha he served. It was charity that made his service a banquet to his brothers in community.
As we consider Martha and Mary transformed by the grace of Jesus, we might also see Fr. Theodore Foley, ‘Servant of God’, as a man also transformed. He served, he welcomed the Word of God. May we ask his prayer, and remembering him, approach with love the mystery of Christ Crucified.
Fr. William Murphy, CP is the pastor of St. Joseph’s Monastery parish in Baltimore, Maryland.