Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.
‘One thing necessary’
As I hear the Gospel for today I am drawn to one little phrase attributed to Martha who complains that her little sister, Mary, has left her “all alone”. All alone to do the household tasks (perhaps the customary womanly duties). Martha (“anxious and upset”) resents that little Mary (the marginalised figure in the story) has chosen to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to his teaching. Mary, in other words, has adopted the position of a contemplative, if not argumentative, disciple. I am drawn to that little phrase, “all alone”, because it says so much about Martha’s experience – anxious and upset, busy, task-
I’ve just spent a week with my niece and nephew, Georgia, 8, and Dylan, 8, in Melbourne, and it has been a wonderful and very precious time. It’s also been a testing time. There was much to organise – train tickets, hotel accommodation, daily activities – and even though I deliberately avoided getting caught up in organisation I was still caught out. I fussed about healthy foods. I got impatient with childish exuberance and disobedience. And the underlying lesson for me was the ultimate importance of trust – Georgia and Dylan might not remember what they saw at the Science Works exhibit, or the Aquarium, on the train or the tram or the ferry, but they will remember whether or not they felt safe, happy, cared for. The time we spend with each other has impact, it leaves impressions. Was I there for them? Was I there with them? I can say that when they took my iPhone (an object of distraction) to write me a “thank you” text – I was made to promise I wouldn’t ever delete it – I was very relieved and very happy.
The importance of trust, intimacy, relationship. All Christian teaching, we might say, is concerned to enable and deepen relationships, and makes no sense without reference to relationships of real substance and quality.
Our doctrine of God as Trinity teaches divine relationship – creating, redeeming and sustaining life. Our doctrine of creation teaches the inter-
I could go on, but I’ll limit my comments to this. Our doctrine of the Church professes a sacramental community of diverse believers in Jesus as God’s Beloved, passionate for justice and peace in the world, even unto death. We are believers and we are passionate activists, and the two are entwined in a Holy Spirit – the sacred and the secular, contemplation and action, cult and justice (as the prophet Amos thundered), faith and good works. And yet faith has, always, a certain priority, for without faith we are soon self-
It occurs to me that when I am deeply happy I know myself to have been drawn into relationship – and not always in terms of social activity. I can experience an easing of anxiety and a movement away from feeling “all alone” when I encounter another in song, in drama or film or art. I really like the painting by Caravaggio entitled ‘Martha and Mary’ (1571). It hardly seems religious at all, and takes as its theme Martha’s reproaching Mary for her vanity. We see the jar of perfume, the comb, the looking glass. It’s an astute comment, via today’s Gospel reading, on contemplation as vanity, on religion as self-
On the train to Melbourne I read a few chapters of a book on the life of Simone Weil, the French “mystic-
A (short) lifetime (1909-
I hope this isn’t too wild a leap, but I’m led to consider the so-
She continues: “It is not too hard to understand that some women – a small minority – might find the pervasive sexualisation of Western culture offensive, and might want to signal by their clothing their disengagement. They don’t want their face surveyed by that Western glance that sizes up and categorises – to be dismissed or desired. Yet this is a choice that largely male politicians in France have chosen to remove …” (Madeleine Bunting, ‘A veiled threat to women’s freedom’, The Guardian).
In other words, the Islamic veil can be an expression of inner freedom and confidence – an expression of faith in the one thing necessary: relationship. In this case, relationship with God and others as opposed to brute secularisation, as opposed to objectification. And the veil can signify, to the horror of those who would force people to be “free”, that inner and public life are entwined in a Holy Spirit.
I offer that for further contemplation. Let’s remember to include in our prayerful silence today those whose faith traditions differ from our own. And then let us complete the homily together. You are invited to come to the altar-