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. 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. 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?
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.
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), the
1946 United Nations Convention on Genocide, the 1948 United Nations Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, and Amnesty International founded in 1961. 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.” 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,”
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 is
a figure of the sacrifice of Isaac
and a pre-figure of the sacrifice of Jesus.
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.
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
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.
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
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.” Psalm 15 dates back to the time the Jews still
carried the Ark of the Covenant in processions. Psalm 15 is one of the psalms expressing the
moral quality of blamelessness, 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.
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.
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
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.