Colossians 1 15-28, Luke 10, 38 -end
May I speak in the name of God, Creator, Redeemer and Spirit of life,
I wonder how you felt when you heard today's reading from Luke? Who do you identify with most this morning; are you a Mary, happy to be still and listen, or a Martha, with millions of things on your mind, all of them needing to be done today, desperate to be somewhere else, hoping the sermon won't be too long, filled with the need to be rushing around to get all your jobs done in time for the next round of emails, or tidying, or jobs, or whatever?
I think encountering the Jesus of today's Gospel in person must have been a very challenging experience. For anyone like Martha, whose day-to-day life seems a constant round of important things to do that just can't wait, today's Gospel shows Jesus at his most puzzling. What exactly is the one thing Martha needs? Jesus is also at his most disconcerting, because why doesn't he see how unfair it is that she's doing all the work while her sister apparently does nothing!
We're not the first to feel that our own uncertainties and frustrations are echoed in biblical figures like Martha and Mary; During the 1520's, St. Ignatius Loyola began writing about the emotions that took hold of him while he read the Scriptures. Think of the jealousy and resentment that's bubbling under the surface of Martha's anger St. Ignatius wanted to explore feelings like those, the feelings we encounter so frequently in the gospels and in life, and his way of doing this was through creating a set of spiritual exercises, all intended to help us come closer to an understanding of what Jesus has to say to us about the mysteries of faith and belief.
I think St Ignatius can help us with today's Gospel. In one of his spiritual exercises, he encourages us to imagine ourselves in the biblical text- the idea is to let yourself be taken over by the story, immersing yourself in the experience. You stop, perhaps with a prayer for guidance, take a moment to absorb the reading and then in your imagination you explore the place where the story is set. The idea is to imagine the sights and sounds, the people, to imagine yourself close to Jesus and whoever else is in the story, and then to ask questions of the people you encounter. And that can include Jesus himself. So, pause for a moment and we'll give it a try.
Imagine you're Martha in today's Gospel. What are your many tasks? Try and list them. If you find yourself thinking of the jobs you yourself have got to do today that's fine. Imagine how busy you are, the pressures and the strains you feel from trying to juggle so many everyday tasks. Imagine how infuriating it is to see your sister doing nothing to help, and how angry, even perhaps jealous you feel. Now, ask yourself why do you feel so cross about your sister? What is it she isn't doing? Why does she make you so angry, what are you jealous of? Perhaps you’re not thinking of Mary, perhaps it's someone else. Now, most difficult of all, how can you stop feeling so very cross? How can you gently nudge all that anger and resentment to one side? Because with your mind empty of all that hostility and anger you can finally ask yourself, just what is the one thing that Jesus wants me to do?
Only you can do this. In the Gospel Jesus knows what that one thing is, but he isn't telling Martha! And so, we, like Martha, have to find out for ourselves. Here St Ignatius might encourage us to gently shift from imagining ourselves as Martha to becoming a little more like Mary; letting go of all the business of everyday life and trying to follow Paul's advice to the Galatians, 'be guided by the Spirit'. St Ignatius might even, at this point, encourage us to enter into an imagined conversation with Jesus himself.
So now, in your imagination try and see yourself in the same room as Mary Martha and Jesus. And now, in the silence of the moment of peace you've carved out from all your business, try asking Jesus himself, what do you mean? What is the 'one thing' you want me to concentrate on? The one thing that matters more than everything else?
St Ignatius knew that there were dangers in this imaginative approach-how can we tell whether the conversations we imagine and the answers we hear are to be trusted, and which are just our own ideas magnified and amplified? His advice is to focus on the imagined conversations and experiences that bring consolation and a sense of peace. He tells us to leave behind the ones which leave us feeling desolation and a loss of energy. He encourages us to do this with someone else, someone whose guidance we can trust and have faith in. When I tried thinking about today's readings in the way I've described today it seemed to me that in St. Paul we have been given just such a person.
The one thing Martha needs to be aware of, the only thing she needs to be thinking about in that room two thousand years ago, is the very same thing we are being called to reflect on today in our reading from Paul's letter to the Colossians, , that is the mystery of Jesus as 'the image of the invisible God'. 'He himself is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.' says St. Paul. This week, when we've been able to see amazing images of the universe as it was long before human beings emerged on earth, brought to us across billions of years by the James Webb space telescope, that mystery seems even more ungraspable. No wonder Jesus tells Martha, and us as well, to stop being so busy and to stop. Because letting go of all our busyness, all our rivalries, all the things that make life seem so very hard, allows us to give ourselves time to wonder about the mystery that is God in Jesus . If we find the pictures of the cosmic cliffs of the Karina nebulae from the James Webb telescope so wonderful, how much more wonderful is the idea that this man sitting with Mary at his feet is, as Paul says, 'the firstborn of all creation’. 'Firstborn', suggesting that long before even the wonders of the Karina Nebulae, Jesus had an existence of some form in and with the invisible God. That idea really does need time to wonder at, to experience in silence and awe. It's not one we're ever going to understand, it's simply there for us to rest with in wonder and mystery. And then there's so much more to wonder at in Paul's description of who Jesus is; he is 'the head of the body, the church, the beginning, the firstborn from the dead.' Jesus, Paul tells us, 'Has first place in everything.' Jesus, Paul tells us, has bridged the divide between us and God ; his Gospel is for everyone and every creature on earth. You might want to try reflecting further on Paul's words at home again later today, with all that it suggests about the person and nature of Jesus.
It may be that then, in the silence of our own reflection and by taking St. Ignatius and St Paul as our guides, we might stop being slaves like Martha to the mundane and the everyday, and instead, by becoming more like Mary, discover the wonder of being still in a mystery far greater than anything discovered by even the most powerful of space telescopes.
In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen