Father Mitch Pacwa's Homily for July 29th, 2020, the feast of St. Martha
Many of the Jews had come to Martha and MaryLuke 11:19-27
to comfort them about their brother [Lazarus, who had died].
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming,
she went to meet him;
but Mary sat at home.
Martha said to Jesus,
“Lord, if you had been here,
my brother would not have died.
But even now I know that whatever you ask of God,
God will give you.”
Jesus said to her,
“Your brother will rise.”
Martha said to him,
“I know he will rise,
in the resurrection on the last day.”
Jesus told her,
“I am the resurrection and the life;
whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live,
and anyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?”
She said to him, “Yes, Lord.
I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God,
the one who is coming into the world.”
Today’s reading from the first epistle of St. John, chapter 4, brings out two important elements. On the one hand, it speaks about the absolute necessity of loving God, but even then, it keeps in mind that love of God is not something that we took the initiative to do. God takes the initiative. It is not so much that we love him but that he loved us first.
This brings out a very important aspect of the virtue of love, namely, that this is like faith and like hope, a theological virtue; this means that it is a gift from God. It is not of human manufacture. Affection is something that we have. We feel affection very easily, but so do dogs, and that is one reason we like dogs. They are very affectionate to us. Especially if you feed them. They become part of your pack and they feel emotion and cats, many other animals have great capacity for affection, especially the Indian ones; if you raise up an elephant, they will like you also. African elephants are little tougher to train but it can be done. But that is affection. That is human. It is animal. It is part of being a mammal.
Love is something else. This requires God because it is concerned not about how I feel but it is concerned about God first, and it is concerned about how I give myself to God and accept him, and how I give myself to the brothers and sisters around me, and how I accept them. This is where love is. And that is a gift from God–that is something that is beyond the capacity of the animals to understand–they do their best–we do the best we can on our own but it is not the same as God’s love. And this is absolutely essential for us.
But then the other side, in the same passage, is that we also have to have the theological virtue of faith. That this is absolutely essential for us that we testify, and have seen that The Father has sent His Son as savior of the world; we have acknowledged Jesus as the Son of God, and He remains in Him, and He in God. If you refuse to acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God, refuse to acknowledge the Father sent him, then you do not remain in God. This is essential.
But it also is a gift. It was The Father who sent Jesus into the world. We did not say, “you know, you could give us God the Son, we would be very interested.” No. We did not have the idea, this is The Father’s initiative. It is the Son’s accepting that initiative; the Son choosing to love us, the Father and the Son love us.
Sometimes, I hear people say–in fact I was listening to something on television where a minister was saying, “I think it was cruel that The Father would send The Son to die for us. That is just cruel. Who would do that to their children?” The Son infinitely chose to do the will of the Father. It is not like, “oh, father, do I have to?” No. That is my reaction, that was the way I was as a kid.
The Son also loves us infinitely. He loves The Father infinitely. There is no limit to His love, and so He came, and made that choice to come, and give himself to us. That is why God is love; it is that giving of himself.
Our response is to be one of faith–this is absolutely key. This is also why, as Catholics, we cannot believe that you are saved by faith alone. Why would you isolate that one virtue away from the others? All three; faith hope and love; are theological gifts from God, the gift of grace. That is why St. Paul writes that, in hope you are saved (Romans 8:24).
We need hope. That is not the topic here, but it underlies what we see in today’s Gospel also. Not one of these three virtues is option A, or B, or C. It is not behind the curtain and you get to choose one or the other. It is not only those who say faith alone. Some people will say, “well, I do not worry about what I believe, it is how I love.” That is not choosing one option over another, it is this complete acceptance of faith and love and hope.
The reason the Church asks us to see St. John call us to this love and to have faith in God in this first reading is because the same message underlies today’s Gospel. Martha runs out to meet Jesus. See, she does so because she has cared for him in the past. We see back in Luke 10–it is interesting that only in Luke and in John do we see Martha, Mary and Lazarus–only show in those two Gospels. I would urge you to read Luke 10, where they tell that story, and John 11. And you can tell these are the same individuals. The two women do all of the talking. Lazarus does not speak in either one. And what they say and how they act is very similar in both. It is not the same words. They’re not copying from each other in the Gospels, but they both know these individuals. They have met them. They understand the personalities and they capture that in the text. If you go on in John 11, you see that it is Martha who was fussing around the house. “Oh, Lord, do not open up the tomb, it’s going to smell.” It is the same kind of mentality that you see there.
In this part of John 11, when she runs out to meet him, she is showing her love for him, because she is already engaged in this friendship. Our Lord calls them friends. All the Gospels mentioned that he stayed in Bethany, and then these two mentioned with Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. That is one of the things going on. But then, she expresses faith and her faith deepens step by step.
This is one of the main messages of the whole Gospel of St. John; that encountering Jesus Christ Our Lord is an encounter by which your faith goes from one level to a deeper level to a deeper level, or you go from one level of rejection, to dislike, to hatred. You make those choices. So you will see some of the conversations where the interlocutors become more and more angry and hateful towards Our Lord and anybody associated with them; read John 9, as an example.
Or you go to deeper levels of faith. This is the way it is with human beings. This is the choice that we have to make. We can look around and see that those who reject faith and love and hope are going to deeper and deeper levels of hate. We see this in the news. Those who are seeking what is truly right and just are going to deeper and deeper levels of love. We saw that with congressman John Lewis in his life that we heard about in the past few days. This is a very basic choice we make.
In [Martha’s] case, her starting point is if you had been here my brother would not have died. Our Lord takes her to the general Jewish faith: that your brother will rise. This was the faith of Pharisee Judaism. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, but the Pharisees did. The Essenes, and Zealots; they all believed in The Resurrection. So she said, I know he will rise. She has that faith, that is a deeper level. Then she goes on from believing that he will rise in the resurrection on the last day, that when Our Lord proclaims, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
This is not merely an event in history off in the future. To encounter Jesus Christ Our Lord is to encounter resurrection and life. This is another level that he brings her to, even adds, anyone who believes in me, in this translation it says, “will never die.” That is not what it says in Greek. No. In Hebrew, in particular, they do not have the word ‘never’, It does not exist in their language. What it says in Greek is that he will not die, “esta iona”; he will not die into the age. This is referring to the age to come.
As a matter of fact, somebody asked me email the other day, “why do we say ‘world without end’ in the Gloria? Because the world is translating this word ‘iona’: age or time. In Latin it is ‘seculum’; that is, you will not die into the age to come. Because it is not only death during this life in this world in this age but in the age to come there is a 2nd death. That is what is described in the Book of Revelation: The Second Death. What does that refer to? Not annihilation of the soul, not annihilation of the personality, rather the personality continues in hatred; the hatred that a person begins in this life, the resentment, the anger, rejection of other people, that hatred will continue into all eternity.
But, for those who accept Christ, and who love him, and who love their neighbor as themselves, they will not die into the age.
You do not cease to exist. You will live on in eternity loving ever increasingly, knowing God. The one thing you will not have is faith anymore and will not have hope anymore, because you will see God. you won’t need to have faith, you won’t need to have hope; you’re there!
Hope and faith will die away, but this love we have will continue on into eternity. That is why he promises, “I am the resurrection.” And engaging him in this relationship and entering into this relationship of faith in him means eternal life, into the next age in The Resurrection; our resurrection from the dead.
This is the hope that Christ has, and he gives this question–she has obviously shown love–he asked the question. St. John includes it here, so that each of us will hear the question: “Do you believe this?”
Do you believe this? Every time we celebrate Holy Mass on Sunday we profess the Nicene Creed, and we say ‘I do believe.’ but Our Lord also wants to pose that question not only when we say it formally but to make sure that it is in the depths of our hearts.
She has heard this faith, and he says, do you believe this?
It is also the question we ask at baptism. Do you believe in God the Father? Do you believe in Jesus Christ the son and the resurrection? You believe in the Holy Spirit? We are asked those questions. That is the question we repeat every Easter so that those of us baptized as infants can answer this question. Do you believe?
This is where she who loves Jesus so much responds in faith. “Yes, lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” Now that should sound familiar, no? Is that not similar to the profession of faith by Saint Peter in Matthew 16? “Who do people say that I am?” Peter said, “you are the Christ, the son of the living God.” She makes that profession of faith here and again, just as with Saint Peter, this was a gift from The Father; “this is not from you,” Our Lord said to Peter, “but this is from my father.” That is why he chooses him.
And that is why we celebrate St. Martha; The Father had given her that faith. And he sets her up as a model for us so that we also have that same faith, Jesus is the resurrection and the life and that we also have the same faith so that we can have the same love of Christ. In this way we live out these theological virtues and as I mentioned earlier, underlying this is the gift of hope because to believe that Jesus is the resurrection, to believe that he is the life, even when we suffer in this life, even when things do not go well or go along with my plans.
My plans and hopes are really my human optimism like affection is the human version of love. Left to itself by human nature, optimism is the human planning for things. Those plans usually come apart. Always I ask couples when getting them ready for marriage, what kind of house do you plan to live in and what kind of job and income, and children, and all this in the next 10 years, or 15 years, or 20, or 30, and 50 years? What are your plans?
Great that you have a plan. Be prepared, none of that will happen as you plan. You need to have those plans, but you need to know that is not going to happen just like that. That is okay. Our hope is in Christ, who sustains us when things fall around us so that we can see what he planned, what was his goal and how we become saved and holy and faithful and hopeful in the midst of this life.
Transcript of Fr. Mitch Pacwa’s Homily for Wednesday, July 29th, 2020, provided by WQPH Radio