16th Sunday in Ordinary Time C – July 17, 2016 – I Pledge To Be a Kind Prophet
Last weekend one of our young servers, Anaya Zullo , whispered into my ear, “Do we know who our new girl leader is yet?” I smiled. No, not yet. We are waiting for an announcement from the Bishop. Years ago Anaya’s question would have been unthinkable. We would have wondered what male priest would be the new pastor.
Today’s gospel is just in time. It provides an opportunity to explore the role of women in the life of Jesus — women as prophets, leaders, models of hospitality — in society and in the earliest churches. The Martha and Mary story is routinely used to compare a contemplative, inquisitive Mary to Martha a multi-tasking homeowner who worries a lot.
Jesus said Mary chose the better part? Does it have to be an either/or choice? Can we be spiritual beings at the same time we minister publicly to those in need? In biblical scholar Mary Rose D’Angelo‘s interpretation it is a story about the challenges of partnership in ministry.
Mary and Martha were women well known among early Christians, perhaps as missionaries, but certainly as leaders.  Jesus was pointing out to them and the author of this text, for us, that sometimes we need to re-examine our priorities. What is most important? What can be let go for the sake of our ministries among one another.
Although church hierarchies have overlooked the extensive scholarship about the leadership roles of women in early Christian movements, there are occasional glimpses of change. Just recently Pope Francis called for yet another study of the ordination of women to the diaconate, research that has been done over and over again. Maybe, this, time, something new will emerge.
The Greek word for Martha’s “busy-ness” in the kitchen is “diakonia,” a word also used to describe Christian ministry. Brendan Byrne asks, how can we avoid distractions in our lives that may divert our attention away what really matters — true hospitality attends to what our guests want.  This same message is found in the first reading where Abraham and Sarah shared responsibilities in showing hospitality toward strangers.
A good example of women as models of mercy is the 5th Annual “Nuns on the Bus” tour that is focussing on society’s gaps.  That tour will visit both Republican and Democratic conventions and will stop also in Albany this coming Thursday, July 21st. Some will respond that religious leaders should stay out of politics. However, any institution that cares about how customs, cultural attitudes and laws affect the lives of all citizens is bound to take action in the public sphere.
Margaret Susan Thompson wrote that American women religious “have been involved in politics since the early days of the republic … a remarkable fact since, for the first century or more of their presence, they were, as women, not even able to vote.”
In another coincidence, this coming Tuesday, July 19th marks the anniversary of the first Women’s Rights Convention in 1848. One of the Declarations of Sentiments drafted referred to the Church and women’s “exclusion from the ministry, and with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the Church.” On the next day (July 20th) the Convention passed a resolution, “it is time she [woman] should move in the enlarged sphere which her great Creator has assigned her.”
Martha and Mary in today’s gospel, are seen as loyal disciples of Jesus from Nazareth who embraced his prophetic vision for a better world. In doing so, they acted in a truly ministerial, priestly, and sacramental way.
For nine-year old Anaya Zullo, who asked me about the next “girl” leader for our parish, the only pastor she has ever known has been a married woman.
We look forward to our partnership with a new pastoral leader. Like Abraham and Sarah, Martha and Mary, we will continue to pledge to be kind prophets, to pay attention to what really matters, to speak the Word of God without fear and to love our enemies as much as our friends.
- Anaya’s name is used with parental permission
- Caroline Hsu. “Martha and Mary Were Biblical Favorites, but Who Were They?” 01/25/08 in http://www.usnews.com/news/religion/articles/2008/01/25/mary-and-martha-are-biblical-favorites-but-who-were-they-
- Byrne, Brendan. The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2000) 102-103
- The full theme is called: Mending the Gaps: Reweaving the Fabric of Society