By the Rev Msgr Harry Entwistle
Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time Sunday 21st July 2019
To some extent in modern Western culture people are judged on their image rather than truth and reality. Images painted by artists are interpretations, while photographic images tell it ‘as it is’ for good or ill.
St Paul describes Jesus as the ‘image of the invisible God,’ while the epistle to the Hebrews says that Jesus bears the very stamp of God’s nature. These descriptions point to Jesus being a photographic rather than an interpretive image of the God who is faithful to the promises he makes.
God promised Abram that his descendants would be numerous, but Sarah was old and Abram’s heir was born to a slave woman. In today’s first reading God promises that Sarah would bear a son. She laughs at this promise, but in speaking a word to Sarah, the God who is able to create out of nothing, is able to bring life out of a womb that was considered dead.
In Old Testament times, Jewish theology described God’s word as wisdom but in St Paul’s time God’s wisdom was described as the Law of Moses, the Torah. The Christian Church of course believes that as the image of God, Jesus is the Word of God being his stamp.
When Paul wrote his epistle to the Colossians about 80 AD, the Church there were many Gentile members of the Church, so he was anxious to make it clear that our salvation has been won by Jesus, not by the Law of Moses. It is through faith in Jesus that we are able to receive the gift of salvation. Although gifts can be offered they have to be accepted and today’s gospel reading tells us how that can be done.
Jesus and his disciples visited Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Martha was busy in the kitchen and became annoyed that she was left to do all the work while her sister was sitting listening to Jesus. These two sisters were at different stages on their spiritual journeys. Martha focussed on activity rather than on God. “Don’t you care that my sister has left me to serve alone?” “Tell her to help me.” Martha’s needs were central even if she was serving Jesus. It sounds like telling God that unless he gives us what we want we will stop believing in him.
Martha is frustrated because she has lost control of the situation. She is very busy working for Jesus but isn’t focussed on him. Being focussed on doing rather than on being is a common problem for Christians. Doing is important, but if a disciple is not focussed on Jesus, his or her life is no different from that of a humanitarian non-believer. There was nothing wrong with Martha’s activity, it was her motivation that was defective, and in Christianity motivation is everything.
In contrast, Mary focussed on Jesus, not simply hearing his words, but listening to the words of the one who is the Word of God at a deep level. Mary moves beyond words to encounter God at a deeper level. When this happens, one’s faith grows and compassion for God’s creation increases. The more contemplative a person is, the more active that person becomes in building God’s kingdom.
Through focussing on Jesus and not simply his words, we pray not only with our lips but in our hearts and lives . Everything we do, every devotion we offer, every ritual we perform, every sacrament we receive and every act of kindness and service we offer becomes our prayer and our lives are transformed.
It was St John of the Cross who reminds us that, “God our Father spoke only one Word, which was His Son, and this Word always speaks in eternal silence, and in silence it must be heard by the soul. (Maxims and counsels, 21)
Real disciples love Jesus, not just their preferred image of him.
Monsignor Entwistle was the first Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross. Educated at St Chad's Theological College, he was ordained a priest in the Church of England Diocese of Blackburn in 1964. After reception into the Roman Catholic Church, he was ordained to the priesthood in St Mary's Cathedral, Perth on 15 June 2012.