A distraught woman tried many times to contact her priest only to discover that it was his day off. She contacted him the next day and scolded him severely. "Father, I needed you yesterday," she said, "and you were not there for me. You have let me down. I cannot believe you would take a day off when so many people like me need you." Then she added, "The devil never takes a day off."
The priest, a little irritated and with tongue in cheek, responded, "And if I didn't take a day off I would be just like the devil, wouldn't I?"
Two weeks ago, with no idea of what today's gospel reading might be I began re-reading Richard Gula's book, The Call to Holiness. Perhaps my choice of a book illustrates a serendipitous synchronicity in which we can discern God at work. Gula, a Sulpician Roman Catholic priest, believes that God calls people to live at the intersection of spirituality and morality. That is, we follow Jesus by emulating both Mary and Martha as depicted in today's gospel reading.
We, like the priest in the anecdote with which I began this sermon, presumably desire to be like God rather than the devil. Keeping a weekly Sabbath – setting aside one day per week to relax, enjoy loved ones, worship, and engage in other spiritual activities – is fundamental for spiritual health. Optimal Sabbath activities are activities that help you to experience God's love, deepen your knowledge of God's wisdom, and grow stronger spiritually. For Mary, at least on the particular day of the incident recorded in today's gospel reading, sitting at Jesus' feet and listening to him teach was one such activity. For many of us, gathering here at Holy Nativity with friends and family, hearing scripture read and then expounded, sharing prayers and concerns, and joining together in a common meal at God's altar are important activities for maintaining spiritual health. What spiritual practices most help you to experience God's love and live abundantly?
On the other hand, Martha did not host Jesus and his disciples to gain social standing. Instead, she was hard at work feeding the hungry and the homeless. Remember, Jesus during his ministry had no home, that is, he was a homeless person. Furthermore, Jesus never rebukes Martha for being concerned about the physical needs of her guests. Perhaps Martha felt overwhelmed by the amount of work to care for their guests. Perhaps Martha simply felt petulant, envious of her sister Mary spending more time with Jesus. We don't know and it does not matter. Elsewhere in the Bible, we read that Jesus loved both Martha and Mary. And when Jesus visits the two sisters following the death of their brother Lazarus, Martha is the one who rushes to meet Jesus, confident that had he been present he could have healed Lazarus before he died. In short, suggesting we face a dichotomous choice of emulating Martha or Mary is wrong: both were spiritual women whose spirituality empowered and animated their love for others.
Jesus frequently spent time in the wilderness alone, finding renewal in seasons of prayer. He also worshiped in synagogue and the Jerusalem Temple. Concurrently, he taught his hearers to discern God's kingdom when they saw the sick healed, the dead raised, the captive liberated, the hungry fed, and the thirsty given water.
It is insufficient for us to emulate Mary by figuratively sitting at Jesus' feet. We also must emulate Martha by housing the homeless, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, working to end gun violence, and so forth. I read recently of a wise priest who recommends that people exploring Christianity commit to both attending the Eucharist and working in a soup kitchen every week for six months.
Three differences between the Church and other helping groups are important. First, God sets our agenda. God calls us to love our neighbor and to be stewards of creation. Second, because we put God at the center of our service, God both guides each of us into one or more appropriate ways of serving and is present with us. Third, when our love proves inadequate, God empowers us. For example, when my neighbor seems unlovable, when I want to exploit the earth rather than to protect a fragile environment and endangered species, when the task before me seems impossible, then the gift of the Holy Spirit that we received in Baptism carries us forward.
[A] group of computer [salespeople] from Silicon Valley went to Chicago for a sales convention. They assured their [spouses] that they would be back to the hotel in plenty of time for dinner. But one thing led to another and the meeting ran overtime. As they raced to the El, one salesperson inadvertently kicked over a table supporting a basket of apples. Without stopping, they all reached the train with a sigh of relief. All but one.
This man paused, and felt a twinge of compunction for the boy whose apple stand had been overturned. He waved goo-bye to his companions and returned to the apple stand. He was glad he did. The ten-year old boy was blind. The man gathered up the apples and noticed that several of them were bruised. He handed the boy twenty dollars and said, 'Take this money for the damage I did. I hope it won't spoil your day.' As he started to walk away, the bewildered boy called after him, 'Are you Jesus?' he stopped in his tracks. He wondered.
For whom are you Jesus?