(homily for July 17)
We probably never think about it, but the earliest followers of Jesus had hymns they would sing when they gathered for the Eucharist, and today we have one of their favorites, entitled: Jesus is the image.
Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers-- all things have been created through him and for him.
He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
Each verse of this song is rich with the understanding of God and who Jesus is and how crucially important Jesus is for our world. Jesus was before all things that were ever created: the visible we see and the invisible, like the angels, who we don't see. All things hold together in him and all things are reconciled in him. Christ pre-existed before Creation and is a free gift to all humanity to enjoy. God in Christ has put creation into our hands to take care of, and, once given, it is ours, without a desire on God's part to control or dominate it. There is no rivalry: Here, it is yours. Any rivalry over creation's control, domination, use or misuse is solely a human problem.
The above point about rivalry explains about 99% of our human problems. We've made God's free gift of creation a source of contention and division. How we get out of this situations of rivalry that lead to so much sadness, suffering, and death? The only answer is Jesus Christ.
Jesus, like us, had favorite places to enjoy hospitality and a good meal. Number one on his list was the house of Martha, Mary, and their brother Lazarus, not too far from Jerusalem. In today's Gospel, Martha and Mary are at home when Jesus arrives. After hugs and kisses, Jesus sits down and Mary as well, at his feet. Martha heads for the kitchen. There is food to prepare and the table to set. After a bit, Martha realizes that she's doing all the work and begins to resent that Mary is just sitting there with Jesus and not helping at all.
A example of human rivalry takes place before our eyes. Martha complains to Jesus: "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me."
Martha, worrying about producing a meal, forgets Jesus. She is task-driven and has taken on too much. Martha sees herself in rivalry with her sister and worries about how Mary is spending her time. Martha puts Jesus in the middle of her difficulty and tries, by triangulation, to get Jesus on her side.
Jesus doesn't take the bait. He values Martha attention to the meal, after all, he's hungry, but can't bless the display of rivalry and Martha's complaint. "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken from her."
There is need of only one thing. What's the better part? Answer: Focus on the only One who can reconcile all things in himself: Jesus Christ. But isn't it unrealistic to think the world could ever focus on Jesus? There's so much work everyday, to be done by so many people, coming from so many different places and religious traditions, or none at all. Do we need to mount a new Crusade to forcibly convert the world to focus on Jesus? Absolutely not. All that would do is create more rivalry. To create more focus on Jesus all we have to do is to reject all impulses to rivalry (and there may be many each day) and love God with our whole heart and mind, and love our neighbors as ourselves.
I'm learning that by not giving in to rivalry and hate, and trying to go about my tasks with love, is pleasing to God, and so are frequent quiet times spent in the presence of God. Jesus came to teach us to resist all rivalry and do everything in the love of God. Singing this song with our lives will restore creation and create true and lasting peace..