IF YOU WERE HERE

God of the Here and Now
July 29, 2020
Guard Your Mind and Heart
July 30, 2020

Homily for 29 July 2020, Tuesday 17th Week in Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Martha, Jeremiah 15:10,16-21, John 11:19-27

The character in focus in today’s memorial is Martha, sister of Mary and Lazarus. They were natives of Bethany and it’s possible that their house served as a home base for Jesus and his disciples whenever they were in Judea. Remember Jesus was from Galilee.
Let me begin by calling attention to something that is a bit unusual about the way the two sisters are portrayed in today’s Gospel. There seems to be a sudden reversal of roles. Martha is the one who comes out to welcome Jesus, while Mary stays at home. It’s John’s way of telling us that Mary was sulking, or giving Jesus a cold shoulder. In Tagalog we would say, “Nagtatampo.”
Martha is the one who is consistent in her frankness towards Jesus. Remember that passage in Luke 10 where she practically scolded Jesus for allowing her to work alone in the kitchen? Straight to his face, she said, “Do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” Her spontaneity and openness towards Jesus suggests that they really treated him like a member of their family.
John tells us they had sent word already much earlier, before Lazarus died, hoping that he could visit them in Bethany because they needed him badly. When Jesus finally decided to drop by their home in Bethany, Lazarus was dead already. So you see why Mary is snubbing him? She really wants Jesus to feel her disappointment in him.
Martha herself does not even wait until Jesus has entered their house. She has hardly said hello to him, she is already telling him straight to his face her honest feeling about his late coming. “If only you were here, my brother would not have died.” What a painful rebuke! And take note, she’s not finished yet. When Jesus attempts to give her the hope of resurrection as consolation, she reacts vehemently and says, “Yes, at the end of time.” Her way of saying, “And you want us to be consoled by that in the midst of our terrible loss?”
In our first reading, Jeremiah, like Martha, just couldn’t hold his tongue anymore. He literally takes God to task. It is probably the strongest rebuke a prophet has ever said against God. He called God a “treacherous brook. “ Meaning, a stream that is quiet now and suddenly surging like a tsunami a moment later. He sounds like a prophet who is having a nervous breakdown, as he begins to realize, not the rewards, but the hazards of being God’s messenger.
You see, laments make up a good part of the Scriptures, especially in the Book of Psalms. They are a good assurance to people, especially those who feel very guilty, not only for sometimes blurting out some words of rebuke towards God, but even for the mere thought of questioning God’s inscrutable ways. In short, the fact that laments are part of the Judaeo-Christian spirituality is enough assurance that it’s all right to pray like this to God. That we’re not expected to behave like Johnny-one-notes, saying nothing but PRAISE THE LORD, whatever the circumstances might be. They are an assurance that God can take it. That It’s ok not to be ok sometimes.
Back to the Gospel scene, upon Martha’s prodding, Mary later comes out to meet Jesus. But before she could even talk, she breaks down before him and repeats the same words of rebuke her sister had said earlier. This time, instead of answering Mary, Jesus keeps quiet. He asks to be brought to the tomb and, on the way, he weeps with the two sisters.
What a tender image of the One Martha had just confessed as “The Christ, the Son of God, the One who is to come.” I do not think Jesus was weeping only for Lazarus. I think he was weeping also because he felt the pain of the rebuke, the pain of not being able to explain to them what had kept him from coming much earlier. He had actually made the huge risk of deciding to come to Judea, even if it meant facing the danger of being arrested, detained, and sentenced to death like his cousin John. He did not even feel the need to justify himself.
Sometimes, we do not realize how we hurt God’s feelings, especially when we can afford to accuse him of not caring, as when the disciples did when they found him sleeping in the midst of a storm. The rebuke comes from the wrong notion or presupposition that God is far away, that he remains distant and unaffected.
I wonder how many people around the world are feeling this way towards God, because of Covid19? I wonder how many have given up praying because they feel that their prayers are falling on deaf ears anyway? I wonder how many have resorted to smashing their religious images at home and, in anger, even dared God to strike them down with lightning? I wonder how many people are grieving in silence and asking, “Why do you allow these things to happen?” Or perhaps have given up their faith all together and have silently made up their mind and declared, “There is no God!”
We thank God for this feisty woman called Martha, who trusted the Lord enough to be able to dare to pour out her grief to Jesus. Her frankness tells us she had enough confidence in God’s unconditional love; she was able to express her bitter lament to Jesus, in whom she has found the great I AM. The one who allows himself to be blamed, to be hurt, to be moved to tears by us, mere creatures though we are..
“I AM” for the Jews is what Yahweh means; it is the name of God. In him, Martha had found the God who emptied himself and became human precisely so that he could say up close to those who feel abandoned and dejected, I AM here for you. I hear your cry. I am not up there somewhere far away. I am down here with you. All I ask of you is to have Faith; be still and know that I am God.

 

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