Commentary on the Gospel of
Memorial of Saint Martha
I had the good fortune of traveling on pilgrimage to Uganda with a colleague and four of our Creighton students this past May into June. Our hope was to humbly journey through that beautiful land and treat each person we encountered and each place we entered as the sacred “sites” of our pilgrimage. It would all culminate with an actual pilgrimage on the feast of the Uganda martyrs (June 3rd), a national holiday in Uganda, by attending Mass at the site where the blood of those young, faithful people was shed for their belief.
Our group set an intention of engaging with Jesuit apostolates in the country. Just hours after we arrived we found ourselves at Jesuit Refugee Services in Kampala. Our bodies were heavy and our minds foggy from jet lag as we began to absorb the reality of the refugee crisis described to us by the incredible staff there. Not long after our introduction we were given a tour of the place and its programs. As we entered one classroom of refugees studying English, they were provided the opportunity to ask us questions. One young man stood up, looked at us with tired eyes and said, “Our classes are often interrupted by visitors like you and we are glad you have come, but what are you doing back in the United States to help end the refugee problem?” He ended with a sincere “thank you” and reoccupied his seat.
As I have prayed with Martha on this memorial of hers and watched her in action in both Gospel story options for today, I hear an echo calling back and forth between Martha and that young man we met at Jesuit Refugee Services. They are both enduring the depths of grief, the reality of loss and the pain of feeling unnoticed. What most resonates with me is the powerful candor in their voices. While others may have felt reluctant to speak their truth to the master and teacher, Martha does not shy away from voicing her concerns to Jesus. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (JN 11:21) “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” (LK 10:40)
How honest am I being with Jesus in my life? Do I give him the respect of trusting the relationship enough to be as candid as Martha or do I sugar-coat the struggles of my life and hide behind passive niceties? What would it feel like to say to Jesus, “If you had been here when…” or “Lord, do you not care about…”? Martha’s questions reveal a depth to the relationship she has with Jesus. She knows Jesus can handle it.
And here’s the kicker (you know there’s always one with Jesus): it is through this honesty that Jesus invites Martha to an even deeper faith response. He hears her struggle and honors her questions and then presents her with a footstone on the path toward healing and grace. “Your brother will rise...do you believe this?”...”You are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing.”
Like Martha, do I stay close enough to Jesus after I speak my truth to hear his response? Do I continue to head the guidance of a wise spiritual director who once encouraged me to “show up and then shut up”? As with any life-giving friendship, do I keep the give and take balanced with Jesus?
From the refugees we met at JRS in Kampala, we were humbled to hear their honest stories of struggle and pain. Through both tears and blank stares, they recounted unimaginable situations of violence, oppression and the worst of the human condition. What moved us even more than the honesty regarding what they have endured was their unflinching faith that God will carry them and their children through to a better life - a life where wounds are healed and hatred is replaced by hope.
Let us all continue to be honest with Jesus in our prayer and then make sure to stick around long enough to hear his advice.
I also humbly ask that you join me in praying through the intercession of St. Martha, St. Charles Lwanga and the Uganda martyrs for those who are displaced by the greed, corruption and violence of others. May they find safe shelter, necessary sustenance, a secure community and the sacred recognition of who they are and the gifts they have to share.