Reflection for Sunday – July 17, 2016
Preacher: Nora Bradbury Haehl
For me this Gospel reading is personal. It’s personal not only because I’m a little sister as well as a big sister (number 5 out of 7 girls), but also because I know what it feels like to want an equal place and have someone else say, “That’s not your place, you belong somewhere else.”
It’s personal because when Martha demands that Jesus put Mary back in her “proper” place, the little sister in me can still hear the childhood echoes of big sister complaints, “Mom! Are you gonna let her do that? You NEVER let me do that when I was her age.” It’s personal because as a woman and a lay ecclesial minister in the Catholic church, this Gospel reminds me of those voices that decry my place to teach, preach, lead, question, or protest injustice in the church, those folks that think such things should be left to the clergy.
It’s personal because I see my own story in Mary’s story. Like Mary I have always wanted to sit in the place of a disciple and learn from the Lord, how to love, how to live, how to advocate, how to heal. And like Mary there has almost always been someone who says (sometimes literally, sometimes structurally), “How dare you!”
The commentaries tell us that this story is about finding the balance between the active life and the contemplative one. The scripture scholars say this isn’t so much about Jesus rejecting social norms as it is about Martha’s distraction and Mary’s single-mindedness. And I hear all that. But for me this is one of those stories that resonates so deeply with my own experience. When Jesus calms Martha and then for Mary, protects what she has chosen—a disciple’s place—I hear him speaking on my behalf. I hear him saying for me, and for so many others like me, “it will not be taken from her.”
A place of dignity, of integrity, of freedom to choose for oneself—it will not be taken from her. For the past few years I’ve had the incredible opportunity to be a part of our diocesan collaboration with the Muslim community here in Rochester, N.Y., called the Muslim Catholic Alliance, MCA for short. In addition to offering programs to build understanding within and between our respective communities, MCA meets for dialogue sessions once a month. This year we’ve been focusing on our shared concept of beauty—in art, literature, and music. In the past we’ve talked about the ways in which we each deal with different spiritual values and experiences: service, charity, hospitality, death, marriage. The conversations are eye opening and faith deepening.
Engaging in interfaith dialogue is risky. Everyone walking into the room knows that while the rewards are incredible—new knowledge, new friendships, new insights into our own tradition as we encounter another’s—we might accidentally offend. Our prejudices and presuppositions may be revealed. We may embarrass ourselves. Someone might offend us.
While none of these things usually happens, and if they do, the kindness and hospitality we offer each other is always enough to see us through, it can be emotionally uncomfortable. It is necessary work. Our faith calls us to it. The Pope wants us to do it. And for very practical reasons we must do it. “This rising generation will be the most diverse our nation has ever seen, making it all the more important that we teach them to engage with that diversity,” says Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core.
It struck me as I’ve watched the news stories and social media commentary these past few weeks with an ever increasing level of alarm and dismay, that several of the principles we use for interfaith dialogue could be helpful to us as we seek to build a more peaceful and just society. I’ll highlight just two here:
• We honor our own and others’ experiences as valid.
• We stand for mutual understanding and avoid hateful language against another.
The news about Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, African American men killed by police in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis, followed by the shootings of the officers in Dallas is distressing. One of the many things it tells us is that we are not there yet as a society when it comes to race and justice, and as a church we are called to do something about it. Really. Here’s what Pope Francis said about justice when he announced the Year of Mercy:
”It would not be out of place at this point to recall the relationship between justice and mercy. These are not two contradictory realities, but two dimensions of a single reality that unfolds progressively until it culminates in the fullness of love. Justice is a fundamental concept for civil society, which is meant to be governed by the rule of law. Justice is also understood as that which is rightly due to each individual.”
As I listen to the words of protesters crying for justice I hear Mary’s desire, my desire, for a place of dignity, of integrity, of freedom to choose for oneself. May we all work together, first to seek understanding, then to pursue and to ensure that place of dignity for every person.