29 July 2009 Memorial of St. Martha
Exodus 24, 29-35; Psalm 99; John 11, 19-27 or Luke 10, 38-42
Jesus calls for non-preferential love for all. He scours villages to embrace foreigners and sinners, the outcast and the oppressed, the strangers and the lonely. But he has preferential relationships Himself: from particular groups like the disciples (His barkada), the women who surround him, and to specific people such as the disciple whom he loves and the family of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. For us to love universally, we have to love particularly. To love the poor of the world, we should have someone in mind, a poor person with a name, a face, and memories of time spent with them. Friendship, after all, is both a universal human experience and at the same time a very particular one.
One such friend to Jesus is Martha, the sister of Mary and Lazarus. We all have pictured her as a doing person. Her concern is the upkeep of the house and the esteem of her guests. Hers is the spirit of generosity: she wants her guest to feel like family, comfortable and warmed by her home. It is not difficult to imagine why wanderers like Jesus and his disciples who do not have a place to rest would find Martha’s home cooking irresistible. It is not hard to see why they have been Jesus’ particular friends, that when Lazarus died, He, the God of Life, cried as well. And all the more we cannot doubt Martha’s heart for Jesus and his disciples. At the very news of their visit, she excitedly prepares her house like our mothers who would prepare our rooms and our favorite food every time we inform them that we’re coming home.
But we cannot separate Martha and Mary. I suggest that we have to throw into the rubbish bin our interpretation that Mary is far better than Martha. I suggest that we put these icons of faith together and at par with each other. And make these two women images of how we are to make friends with Jesus. To these icons, we can glean the value of friendship in our lives and in our ministry. To me, friendship is what keeps me happy in my life as a priest: because I do not have a family, there are people who offer their hearts and open their homes for me. Why is friendship valuable?
First, friendship is crucial in our development as persons because we develop our humanity through our relationships. It helps us grow personally, emotionally and morally. The friendship between Jesus and his family friends in Bethany contributed to their growth as persons. In their conversations, they are able to share their feelings, thoughts, dreams, moral judgments and especially criticism. Case in point: As guest in another’s home, we would rather keep quiet if we see something we don’t agree with. But because Martha is a friend of Jesus, He is comfortable to tell Martha not to be too troubled about taking care of Him. Our real friends can point out our warts and at the same time, love them too.
Second, friendship is enjoyed simply on the account of the relationship entered. We just enjoy our friends’ company. A friend is someone who provokes our interests and our passions, invites us to see reality beyond the virtual (and the denials), assists us to reflect and see the depths of our hearts that we are moved to prayer. With whatever we do, friends are able to help us aspire for loftier and noble things.
This is precisely what Mary is enjoying at the company of Jesus. Oftentimes, our friends know what we truly need even before they realize it. Jesus knows what Mary needed, and He responds to it readily — even though He may be hungry (a hunch). Martha is still preparing the things He needs. And what does a guest need usually? Food. And to me, this is the reason why He tells Martha that what He is doing is more important at that particular time. The act of foregoing a concrete and immediate need in order to respond to a deeper hunger is what matters. We often do this with our friends. We drop whatever we do, when a loved one needs us.
Of course, we should not forget Lazarus. Jesus reclines at table with him and enjoys his company. No need to elaborate: we simply enjoy our friends.
And so as we remember Martha today, we remember the value of friendships in our lives and what it does to the work we do in the Kingdom of God. And as memories are always connected with other memories, we too remember Mary and Lazarus. We thank them for taking care of Jesus and his disciples. Healthy relationships has Jesus at the center. In and through Him, we begin, maintain and perfect our friendships.