Memorial of Saint Martha

Friday, July 28, 2017

Ex 24:3-8; Ps 50:1-15; Jn 11:19-27

“Gather my faithful ones before me.”

Only at the harvest time will the faithful ones all come together and stand before the God who has made covenant with them by sacrifice. Between now and then, the faithful and the unfaithful receive sunshine and rain; both continue to grow side-by-side. After the words and ordinances of the Lord were written down and publicly proclaimed all the people answered: “All that the Lord has said, we will heed and do.” However, the rescued slaves were not yet pure of heart and did not fulfill their vows. Even though they were released from Egypt, the gods of their oppressors still had a place in their hearts. It took many years of wandering before they were ready to receive the promise, but Moses sent young men to offer sacrifice so that the future generations would remember the promises they had made and keep alive the covenant made in blood. Likewise the harvesters will gather in both the weeds and the wheat at the harvest. The weeds gathered for the burning, and the wheat gathered for the barn. At this Perfect Sacrifice we, too, stand between the beginning and the end of all time. We stand before the Lord God who has spoken and summoned the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. In responding at liturgy today, we admit our faithlessness and rely upon God’s faithfulness in Christ, the Great High Priest.

One might ask, “Why did Moses write down all the words of the LORD?” Perhaps Moses knew that the people’s initial enthusiastic response would be forgotten. Moses, the great prophet and teacher, knew the hearts of the children of Israel. He knew they would remember the Lord in times of distress, but at other times they would conveniently forget all that the Lord had done and said. At every Mass we consume the blood of the Lamb of God the spotless and unblemished sacrifice by which the New Covenant is made and renewed. Yet, still our piety is like the early morning dew; it fades away. The great rejoicing and celebration of our vows in the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders are all to easily forgotten. Our loud affirmation, “We will do everything that the LORD has told us,” is all to easily sacrificed on the altar of daily convenience and self-interest.

Many of the Jews join in with Saint Martha and Saint Mary to share their grieving. The friend of the Lord has died. The Lord Jesus had heard of his coming death, and he waited a few days before responding to their summons. Like the messianic secret in the Synoptic tradition, the Lord Jesus is no mere miracle worker. He has not come into the world to fulfill our expectations; he has come to reveal the truth that in him is our true life. Even in the midst of suffering and death, we are alive in Christ for the glory of the Father and in the Holy Spirit. His hesitation is no lack of compassion; he did this to reveal that he is the Lord of Life for his friends Martha, Mary, Lazarus and for all of his friends in every age. However, such behavior is confusing and painful for those who love Lazarus. They question the Lord and wonder about the truth of his love, about his power to save. Such questioning is overheard in the conversation that Saint Martha has with the Lord Jesus. Martha speaks for Mary and for all gathered in grief. The Lord Jesus hears from his closest friends the very same concerns that his Father has heard from the chosen people all through their history. Where is your swift response of compassion O LORD? “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Yes, Martha you are right, and your honesty reflects your practical concerns for all the details of life and relationship. The Lord Jesus responds to her candid questioning with surprising simplicity, “Your brother will rise.” Immediately, Saint Martha professes her faith in the ultimate power of God in Jesus, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” However, this is not the Lord’s intended meaning. So, he tests this honesty when he proclaims, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and anyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Right now Martha, I am the source and guarantee of life for your brother and for all who are here today. These words of comfort are spoken, today, to us and to everyone in each generation unto the last day. Even before his own passionate death and glorious resurrection the Lord Jesus proclaims the truth of his identity for Saint Lazarus and for us. We who believe that he is the Christ, the Son of God, have life in him. That life is abundant now, and it lasts unto the ages of ages. This honest encounter between Saint Martha and the Lord Jesus models for us the kind of prayer that reveals and strengthens our faith even in the face of our incurable wound.

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