The world needs the institutional church to help structuring Human Rights for both the present and the future.  Part of such rights pertains to women.  There is a weak scholarly opinion that the Gospel of Luke draws upon special material derived from a circle of women disciples.[1]  This recounting of Martha and Mary is unique to Luke.  Without doubt, women do have a special place in Luke.  I like to think that Luke knew Mary personally, who regaled him with recollections Luke then worked into his Gospel.  John, on the other hand, identifies Martha and Mary as sisters of the risen Lazarus.[2]  Lazarus might have been an outside part of a circle of women disciples.


Rather than consider Martha and Mary as traditional types of polar opposites, why not consider them as evangelists in a mutual enterprise?[3]


Since the context and content of Martha’s complaint and request concern partnership in ministry and leadership, Martha cannot be viewed as exclusively domestic and secular, or Mary as contemplative and submissive.  Since Martha and Mary are partners in ministry, these “either-or” approaches are not viable options.  A “both-and” relationship is required.[4]


In that way, Mary asks Jesus a question looking for information and Jesus offers an informative response, namely that anxiety harms evangelization.  The anxiety of the bloody sweat before the crucifixion is not of the same stripe as anxiety for the sake of evangelization.  The following reflections do not import that anxiety is always unhelpful, but that anxiety over what is only in the hands of God is unhelpful.  A duality between considering Martha and Mary as compatriots or opposites integrates the rest of these comments.


If one must consider the Martha and Mary event, however, as about some sort of opposition, why not consider it an opposition over rights.  Why not then extend consideration from Martha and Mary to church history.  The ecclesiastical story about Human Rights is sad.  Disregarding what came before, the historical places to look for ecclesiastical support for Human Rights include the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (a fundamental document of the French Revolution),[5] the 1946 United Nations Convention on Genocide, the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Amnesty International founded in 1961.[6]  That support does not include the institutional church community, as community.


The great need for that support is evident in the first article in the Fall 2003 issue of The Journal of African American History, “Introduction: Globalization, Neoliberalism, and Historical Conditionalities.[7]  The article summarizes the great difficulties prioritizing the poor, even by people of good will, within society.  Help structuring Human Rights for both the present and the future needs the institutional Church.


Before he died in 603, Saint Gregory, Pope and Doctor of the Church, warned  that “it may sometimes happen that unprincipled men will have care of some holy place,”[8] which seems to be the case in the recent sexual abuse scandals.  Unprincipled men are in no position to engender Human Rights.  Since the time of Constantine, the institutional religious and church communities have sided with the Marthas of the world to the neglect of the Marys.  For this, we do pray.  I have not found the recent scholar who pointed out that, politically, the institutional church has historically sided with the rich and powerful against the poor and weak.  Such seems a matter of general knowledge, however, without need of documentation.


The rights of women offer one aspect of Human Rights that merit careful ecclesiastical consideration.  The Lectionary readings for today help.  Genesis is about Abraham telling Sara to prepare a meal for his guests.  There is more to the story than that, however.  Moving away from Sara, the sacrifice of the choice steer[9] is a figure of the sacrifice of Isaac[10] and a pre-figure of the sacrifice of Jesus.


Abraham proceeded with equanimity as he prepared to sacrifice Isaac.  Psalm 15 is about a reexamination of conscience, a reexamination suited to the rights of women.  Rights of women suit an oppositional approach to Martha and Mary; a calm conscience suits the evangelical approach.  The world needs the institutional church to help structuring Human Rights for both the present and the future.


Before worshiping, the Jews recited Psalm 15 as an examination of conscience.  While the readings for today translate the antiphon with He, the readings translate that same antiphon in Cycle B as The One.  In other words, the masculine pronoun is unnecessary.  A neuter pronoun would also translate the meaning.  Psalm 15 is itself a type of examination of conscience against Human Rights ensuring a sense of calm, not only for individuals, but also for the church itself.  In the same spirit, Colossians also urges the Faithful to reexamine their consciences to be presentable by Saint Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles, to the Lord.  The following comments individually focus the Lectionary readings.


Genesis 18:1-10a

A terebinth is a small European tree of the cashew family yielding turpentine.  Therefore, Abraham met the three angels disguised as men near a terebinth tree, figuratively a holocaust tree.  While holocaust is usually about living plants and animals, the holocaust can also be about anxiety in the face of Human Rights.  Without explanation, Abraham addresses the three visitors with a singular pronoun, Sir rather than Sirs.  One wonders about a Trinitarian implication.  One also wonders if the conflict represented by a singular pronoun referring to plural people is a sign of unresolved anxiety solved by Faith.  With the above as context, the story unfolds as follows.


First Abraham says let me bring you a little food in verse 5.  Then he tells Sarah, “Quick …”  Such was the way of the First Testament.  In the New Testament, Jesus gives Mary the Human Right to hear the Gospel, and, implicitly, to preach the Gospel.  Mary is a recipient of Human Rights from Jesus himself.  The world would profit from the institutional church helping structure Human Rights for both the present and the future.


An Aramaic translation of Genesis 18:4 has Abraham himself washing the feet of his guests, as an act of hospitality.  When Jesus washes the feet of his disciples, he is performing an Abraham act of hospitality, not an act of humility.  Jesus is welcoming his disciples into his kingdom, a welcome about to become much more clear with the Passion, Death, and Resurrection.[11]


Psalm 15:2-3, 3-4, 5

The Lectionary uses this Psalm at two Sunday liturgies, today and the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.


Readings      Page in         Verses used



108C             721               2-3, 3-4, 5     (1a)    Today

125B             803               2-3, 3-4, 5     (1a)    Ordinary 22B


Bible Study030831_Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time.doc reviews this Psalm 15 as a cultic psalm, used as an examination of conscience as part of a “cultic entrance liturgy.”[12]  Psalm 15 dates back to the time the Jews still carried the Ark of the Covenant in processions.[13]  Psalm 15 is one of the psalms expressing the moral quality of blamelessness,[14] thereby ensuring a proper lack of anxiety.  The need for the faithful to reexamine such things as Human Rights, therefore, dates to the very beginning of the effort to live righteously before the Lord.


Verse 2b, who thinks truth in his heart, means placing truth before politics, with faith in the author of truth to overcome human anxieties.  What comes to mind is the clinical research of Sigmund Freud, so politically incorrect at the time, but so therapeutically helpful over time.  Freud was Jewish.  Psalm 15 encourages the Faithful to love the truth as they find it within their own hearts, even against a host of contrarians.  That one who does these things shall never be disturbed assures the self-righteousness necessary to stay on the Cross of Jesus Christ, with a sense of calm within a context of offering others Human Rights as an act of love.


Colossians 1:24-28

Saint Paul rejoices in his sufferings, sufferings required to foster what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ within the church as an act of love; as the Faithful might rejoice in the sufferings required to foster Human Rights within the church as an act of love.  Human Rights is suited as an act of love for all humanity.  Fostering Human Rights is a legitimate aspect of Christian love of neighbor.  Doing this without the anxiety of Martha, worried about many things, is the advice of Jesus.


Cf. Luke 8:15

A harvest through perseverance suits the development of Human Rights within historical context.  Perseverance also required a certain lack of anxiety.  The institutional church owns a great potential for helping structure Human Rights for both the present and the future.


Luke 10:37-42

Regarding these verses as showing some sort of opposition between Martha and Mary, the house belonged to Martha, but Jesus favored her sister who may have been the poor relative.  The institutional ecclesial church, especially since Constantine, has historically favored the ones to whom the house belonged, rather than any poor sisters.  Such is the consideration for these readings.  The willingness and ability to make such a consideration without anxiety rests in the advice of Jesus to Martha.


What about those whose vocation is to contemplate the Almighty?  Contemplation never happens out of context.  The context to consider for these readings is support for Human Rights by the institutional religious communities, including all non-Catholic religious communities.  Such consideration invites human anxiety that merits a place within faith of what God wants for his people.


Martha does treat Mary as her poor relative, attempting to embarrass her before everyone, thinking that Jesus would tell Mary to help with the preparations.  Martha is trying to use anxiety as a tool to get her own way.  Had Martha more respect for Mary, Martha would have taken her aside to ask for help.  If one is a poor sister, one looks for little help from institutional religion.  My Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish only opened its Outreach Program after my wife and I observed that, as much as the Church might condemn the activity of Planned Parenthood, Planned Parenthood was the place to go if one were desperate for help because of infant mouths to feed.


In a similar close by vein, when I walked the picket line with the strikers at the shipyard, I saw no clergy, except those passing by for a morning constitutional.  What looked like the local pimp, however, did show up to encourage the strikers in their demands for Human Rights, for example in the form of pensions.  The strikers themselves, members of the Faithful, were often full of prayer for justice.  Since the time of Constantine, the institutional religious communities, like mainstream Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, have sided with the Marthas of the world to the neglect of the Marys, Marys who may have been on strike.  For this, we do pray.


To review the readings: Genesis portrays Sarah as jumping to the command of Abraham; Psalm 15 calls for an examination of conscience, as does Colossians.  The Gospel explains what it means to respect Human Rights for someone who does not own the house.  Jesus explains that the way through the anxieties Martha feels is faith in the proclamation of the Gospel by Jesus.  The world needs the institutional church to help structuring Human Rights for both the present and the future.  The institutional church can begin doing this.  For this, we pray.



For more on sources and their availability, besides the footnotes, see the Appendix file.


[1] Richard Bauckham, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (Grand Rapids, Michigan/ Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002) 190-191.


[2] Richard Bauckham, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (Grand Rapids, Michigan/ Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002) 213.


[3] These notes are strongly influenced by Warren Carter, “Getting Martha out of the Kitchen: Luke 10:38-42 Again," the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 58, No. 2 (April 1996) 264-280.


[4] Warren Carter, “Getting Martha out of the Kitchen: Luke 10:38-42 Again,” the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 58, No. 2 (April 1996) 277. Richard Bauckham, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (Grand Rapids, Michigan/ Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002) 297, footnote 117 does mention a 1996 article by W. Carter, but nowhere does Bauckham recognize the work of Carter cited here. Strange.


[6] See Kenneth Cmiel, “Review Essay: The Recent History of Human Rights,” The American Historical Review, Vol. 109, No. 1 (February 2004), pages 117-135


[7] George Clement Bond, “Introduction: Globalization, Neoliberalism, and Historical Conditionalities,” The Journal of African American History, Vol. 88, No. 4 (Fall 2003), 330-338.


[8] St. Gregory, Pope and Doctor, Given to the People in the Basilica of the Blessed John called the Constantiniana On the End of Life, PL 76, col. 1293, Homilia 30, on the Gospels, as cited in  The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers: Volume Three: From Pentecost to the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, tr. and ed. M. F. Toal (P.O. Box 612, Swedesboro, NJ 08085: Preservation Press, 1996) 351, 355.


[9] Robert J. Daly, S.J., “The Soteriological Significance of the Sacrifice of Isaac,” the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 39, No. 1 (January 1977), 53.


[10] Nathan Macdonald, “Listening to Abraham—Listening to Yhwh: Divine Justice and Mercy in Genesis 18:13-33," the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 66, No. 1 (January 2004) 26, 35.


[11] Mary L. Coloe, P.B.V.M., “Welcome into the Household of God: The Foot Washing in John 13," the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 66, No. 3 (July 2004) 408 and passim.


[12] Dale Launderville, O.S.B., Ezekiel’s Cherub: A Promising Symbol or a Dangerous Idol?" the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 65, No. 2 (April 2003) 175.


[13] J. J. M. Roberts, The Enthronement of Yhwh and David: The Abiding Theological Significance of the Kingship Language of the Psalms," the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 64, No. 4 (October 2002) 681.


[14] J. Ross Wagner, “From the Heavens to the Heart: The Dynamics of Psalm 19 as Prayer," the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 61, No. 2 (April 1999) 256.