Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Oct. 10 at Sacred Heart Seminary in Hales Corners, Wis.
Karl Marx described religion as the opiate of the people — a drug that sedated oppressed people by promising future rewards for putting up with their present intolerable circumstances. Marx opposed religion because the powers-that-be used it to keep the people under control.
You don’t have to be a Communist to see that religion is often used for non-religious purposes. We see this in American politics, but that’s a homily for another day.
This is also true in our relations with each other. In today’s Gospel Martha invites Jesus to the house which she shared with Mary of Bethany, and then under the veneer of trying to be a good hostess, she makes a little power play, a move designed to put Mary in her place.
The attitude of the time was that only men discussed theology; women belonged in the kitchen. So when Martha asks Jesus to make her sister help her, what she wants is for Jesus to use his religious authority to get Mary off her duff and back into the kitchen where she belongs.
But Jesus doesn’t buy this at all. He says, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and upset about many things; one thing only is required.” Who cares about what’s going on in the kitchen? We’re in here discussing the Kingdom of God and you can’t sub-contract out your religious life to the men. You need to understand and believe on your own. Mary has “chosen the better portion and she shall not be deprived of it.” And there you have it.
God has no grandchildren, only children. Faith is passed on, but it’s not inherited; no one is grandfathered in. Jesus wants us to get to know him ourselves and we will do so by sitting at his feet like Mary did, listening to his words.
When religion is used for non-religious purposes, innocent people get hurt. Jesus does say that conflicts will arise on account of our faith because following him requires us to put doing God’s will ahead of everything else, but most such conflicts are really about trying to make others do our will, which is not the same as God’s will.
We see this often in the case of conflicts within families. And it is very easy for us to be blind regarding our own real motives. Any time you see so-called Christians conducting themselves in an unkind manner, you can be sure of three things:
• The conflict is not of the Lord.
• The basic issue is power, not faith.
• Innocent people will be hurt.
Jesus faced every conflict with love and every adversary with understanding. He knew the truth didn’t need any embellishment and that in the end love and persuasion are far more powerful than manipulation or coercion.
To use Pope Francis’ beautiful language, he accompanied people, listened to them, journeyed with them. That’s the mystery of the cross. If we are truly his followers, then we must sit humbly at his feet and learn from him like Mary did. This is the better portion and we shall not be deprived of it.
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