Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
1 John 4
The other day I preached this homily at the hermitage and a couple of folks asked for it, so here it is a couple days late. In the Roman calendar the feast is listed only as the feast of Martha, but the Benedictine order celebrates it as the feast of her siblings as well, Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Our Camaldolese calendar (in Italian) lists them as ospite del Signore. It’s an interesting word in Italian, ospite. In common language it is usually translated as “guest,” but in the dictionary its first meaning is “host.” How can someone be a guest and a host at the same time? Maybe that’s what happens in the closest of friendship, the line disappears. And somehow that is God at every moment of prayer, both our guest and our host. We make room for Spirit in our midst and in our lives, and yet it is God who provides the feast.
This is a fascinating family, Martha, Mary and Lazarus. And the most beautiful part about them is that in looking at them I get the feeling we are catching a glimpse of Jesus’ own private life, his intimate relationships. I’d like to think that Jesus had a place he could go, where he was just among friends, some people who knew what kind of foods he liked and what kind of sandals he wore. Maybe their house was that one place where he could go where he didn’t have to be on stage, where he didn’t have to be rabbi, or good teacher, or Lord. He was just “our friend Jesus.”
I also like to think of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, these three people who loved Jesus, as representing three different aspects of love. (Mind you, I’m one of the those people who think it’s all one love anyway, as Fr Bede taught, it’s all eros leading to agape, but still there are different aspects of it that we can focus on.) Mary is the easiest to understand. Though she is often conflated with the figures of Mary Magdalene and the woman caught in adultery, there is no proof of that. But there is something to the similarity of the energy of their relationships with Jesus. I think we could think of her being in love with Jesus––that doesn’t diminish Jesus’ divinity in any way––even as they say one falls in love with one’s guru. Mary is at least the symbol of the one always leading with the heart: there are two different stories of her anointing Jesus, once with her hair, which is a shockingly intimate gesture.
And then there is Martha, another aspect of this love. If Mary is bhakti, the yoga of devotion, Martha is karma yoga, the yoga of work. Martha is usually for us the symbol of the harried, overworked one, maybe a “two” on the Enneagram, scurrying around the kitchen while Mary sat gazing lovingly into the eyes of Jesus. Traditionally she has come to symbolize the active life as opposed to the contemplative life. But Meister Eckhart didn’t think that was quite fair. He suggested that she was perhaps the one closest to spiritual maturity, because she didn’t need the physical proximity to Jesus any more. She could get about the work that had to be done and retain the closeness to Jesus with her, like Brother Laurence of the Resurrection finding God amid the pots and pans as much as in his cell or at liturgy––maybe Martha could carry the cell in her heart. Martha is immediately up making Jesus’ favorite foods. Maybe she simply didn’t understand why Mary needed that proximity to Jesus, and it is then that Jesus tells her to let it go. Mary needs this for now. Soon enough Mary is going to need to hear the same words that the Magdalene heard: “Do not cling to me.”
And then there is Lazarus. We don’t know that much about him except that they say to Jesus, “The man you love is ill,” and, after Lazarus dies they say, “See how much he loved him!” words that are reserved only for Lazarus and the apostle John, the other one “whom Jesus loved.” And I have to think that it is that love that they shared that Jesus uses to raise Lazarus from the grave. In Jesus, as Dionysius says about God’s own self, the love–energy is outgoing, doing miraculous unheard of unfathomable surprising things. It can write symphonies, build a world of justice and peace, rip the doors off of smashed up cars when your baby is trapped inside, or raise your friend from the dead.
I remember once that someone asked the great Russian novelist Dovsteosky concerning his novel The Brothers Karamazov which of three brothers he was. And he answered, “All three.” So also, all three of those holy energies are inside of us. My mind drifted hazily once again to the three-fold good of our Camaldolese charism: solitude, community and the third unnamable special one, and I wonder if these three couldn’t also be symbols of those energies and symbols of the love that we are trying to incarnate in our lives: Mary, the symbol of the one on one intimacy with the Lord in solitude, in our obviously contemplative times; Martha, the symbol of community, and our availability and readiness to serve; and Lazarus, the absolute wonder, the prodigal surprise of grace, the power that flows through us and takes us where we not thought it was possible to go and saves us even from the jaws of the netherworld, something we could not and maybe would not do of our own accord.
So by the example and intercession of these guests and hosts, these friends of Jesus, and by our participation in this celebration where we are both hosts and guests, let’s pray that we too may find this intimacy with the Beloved in silence and solitude; let’s pray that we be ready to carry the presence of the Lord in all of our work and service; and that we also be ready for the surprise, the wild card of grace, to be ready for the most amazing things to happen to us, in us, through us by the energy of the Spirit of resurrection and life, if only we are willing to be hosts and guests, friends of Jesus, friends of God.