The activities of religious fundamentalists, the atrocities of those who say they find a motivation in faith can add grist to the mill of those who want to ban faith from any public influence, but it should make us look more closely at what our faith tells us and what influence it can have on our life as citizens who have something to contribute to our society. You may remember Pope Benedict and his address at Regensburg in 2006 when he tried to raise the question of the relationship between religion and violence. It didn’t go down to well. But I thought that the story of Martha and Mary in last week’s Gospel had some thought provoking ideas on the subject.
On the one hand it’s very natural for Martha to feel aggrieved that she was left to do all the serving herself. I’m sure it’s a situation that has been repeated in many households throughout the centuries and I’m sure as parents you will have heard a very similar complaint to Martha’s from your own children. As brothers or sisters I’m sure we have voiced something very similar to our own parents. But the Gospel situation is really a bit different. I think we can also read into that ordinary every day situation something more about how we approach life.
We live in a society where people are trying to figure out what is right and wrong, but differently from previous generations they are trying to figure it out without God’s laws or without any belief in God. They are excluding God with the claim that belief in God only confuses us about what is right and what is wrong. It’s almost as if, as Martha did, we are trying to tell God what is right and what is wrong, rather than listen to him telling us what is right and what is wrong as did Mary.
Martha based her whole judgement on how her sister should behave on the basis of the pressures she had to deal with in life, and that too is not so very far away from how our society is deciding what is right and what is wrong. We hear every day judgements about what is acceptable for people to do on the basis of a judgment about what will make their life easier or make life more enjoyable for them. What Christ told Martha and what he is telling us is that his disciples should have a greater horizon of what life is about.
Faith isn’t just a private thing between us and God, it is also about life. Faith makes a difference to life, how we live, how we judge what is right and what is wrong. It stops us, or it should stop us from reducing right and wrong to what we want or how we feel. It should remind us that we are not absolute, and that it is not all about our rights as individuals. We have always struggled to know exactly what God’s commandments mean in practice and no doubt we will continue to struggle, but excluding God from the conversation and deciding on what is right and what is wrong without him doesn’t seem to offer any better solutions.