Homily: Sunday 16 Year C
This is Fr John’s final homily before leaving the Sacred Heart Parish to take up a new appointment.
As I was preparing for this Sunday’s liturgy I began to wonder what I said on the first occasion I preached here and I tried to find the homily I gave. Unfortunately, while I am very good at hoarding things, I am pretty awful at filing them properly, so I gave up the search. I do, however, remember one of the central points, and that was my hope that during my time here all of our parishioners would feel a greater sense of responsibility for our parish. This was not just about, or even about, parishioners taking some of the workload off their priest, it was to do with the very mission of our church, which is to speak the good news of Jesus Christ, both to ourselves and those we come into contact with.
If there is a central point, or two, to the gospel of Luke that we are reading this year, it would be first that the task of every Christian is to be a disciple of Jesus, to let Jesus guide our lives, and to share our knowledge of him with others, not to hold it for ourselves or be afraid or ashamed to utter his name outside of the safe confines of the church building. In other words, if we are to be real Christians, we need to have a missionary spirit, and if we try to have that spirit, God will turn it into something good..
The second central point of Luke’s gospel, I think, concerns hospitality. In today’s gospel passage we find Jesus receiving hospitality from Martha and Mary. Invariably in Luke’s gospel we find Jesus either giving or receiving hospitality, and this is no coincidence, I believe, because the first quality of a missionary will be the capacity to give and receive hospitality, not just to and from those we feel comfortable and familiar with, but with the stranger, with the awkward person, with the one who does not fit into my culture. And a missionary parish will be, by its very nature, an hospitable one.
By a very happy coincidence our Old Testament Reading today is the story I used when we had those sessions on Sunday afternoons around the corner in the Lion pub, to which every parishioner was invited a couple of years ago. That story was a story about hospitality, about how Abraham gave hospitality to some mysterious guests who arrived at his tent in the noon day sun just as he was settling down for his siesta. In the sessions we noted how the great Russian painter of Icons, Rublev, saw this event as an image of the three persons of God giving and receiving hospitality to one another, and how we come to Mass to receive the hospitality of Christ, the image of the invisible God. Hospitality is more than a human phenomenon, it is a pointer to the very nature of God. And hospitality is at the heart of the missionary spirit too.
Last week we listened to the story of the good Samaritan and discovered that we do not have to be at home to offer hospitality. The good Samaritan displayed his missionary spirit by his compassion and his active assistance to someone in need, not someone he was bound to by ties of family and friendship, but to one to whom in normal circumstance he might not give the time of day, because the God of hospitality does not recognise the boundaries of race or creed or class.
In today’s gospel Luke offers us a different lesson about hospitality and the missionary spirit. Hospitality is not something superficial, going through the motions, like a cocktail party where we keep on the move, circulating in order to see and be seen, or to improve our network or just to find someone more interesting. Hospitality involves being still and doing some serious listening and not getting so caught up in the necessary peripherals that clear the ground for hospitality that we end up missing the point of the exercise. ‘Martha, you are busy about so many things, when one thing is necessary?. Was Martha’s frustration with Mary not the fact that Mary was giving her full attention to Jesus, but that Martha had become so caught up in the peripherals that she was no longer capable of stopping, and sitting with the Lord, and she missed that.. In her busyness and relentless activity she had lost something supremely important, which Mary still retained. Martha was jealous for what she had lost, and the only way she could find to compensate for her loss was to hit out at Mary.
This gospel passage is a reminder to us that our parish hospitality and missionary activity is not just a matter of programmes and events. It must always be rooted in prayer, in stopping and listening to the Lord. This is the thing that gives every Christian activity its flavour.
But the story of Martha and Mary also offers a hint to us would-be missionaries, when the world seems to be against us, that perhaps at times the hostility of the world comes from a certain jealousy, a jealousy that in our relationship with Christ we have discovered and clung to something important that the world has given up, or lost, for the sake of more superficial things. In our faith and life with Christ we have something very special that the world longs to have, but cannot admit it, so instead the world focuses on our faults and shortcomings. ‘You are no better than us’, says the world. ‘Leave your prayer, leave your life with Christ. Don’t waste time with God, spend it more profitably with us and you will be as happy as we are’ (which is not to be very happy at all). Martha represents the values of the world lurking in the very heart of the Christian community, even wanting to claim divine authority for their point of view and unsettling us. Next time we think about praying, but don’t, or go through a day without a thought for God, or are tempted not to come to Mass one Sunday, we might bring to mind Jesus’ response to Martha, the Martha that is in us all, ‘Martha, you are busy about so many things, when only one thing matters’.