06 October 2015

Choosing the best part: humility

27th Week OT (T)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA

When I want to learn something new, I first find a way to teach it to someone else. The messy work of jumping into an intellectual project w/o a clear plan of attack doesn't bother me. I don’t have to know every text, every authority, every footnote. Living is mostly about introductions, anyway: bits and pieces, snapshots, and collections. But to make sense of all of my collected snapshots, I need a bigger introduction, a larger story. Something to fit My Story into The Story, so that My Story doesn’t end up as a knock-knock joke or a fortune cookie proverb. This need for a bigger explanation, a grander script is basic to human flourishing. We are pattern-making animals created to love the One Who made us. Because we have heard the Good News and received the Father's mercy, we sit at the feet of the Teacher who is himself the Biggest Story, the Grandest Script, and we let him coach us through our ignorance, our rebellion, and our pride. He is the Gift that turns our wandering into wonder, and pushes us out to give all we have received. 
To be properly taught, we must bring one small gift to The Teacher. We must bring the shiny red apple of humility! To be taught – properly taught – is to be changed, turned around and upside down, and made new. Wooo! Can you feel the anxiety! Changed?! Made new?! Teeth clench. Fingers form a fist. And humility is trapped, trapped by worry, by anxious need. We cannot give ourselves fully to the Teacher if we will not unclench our teeth and relax our fists – those busy, busy, hands that seem to believe that determination and hard work will eventually earn us salvation. Any sort of earned-salvation is never worth the work. We cannot be saved by anything made by human hands. There's a better way – the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Jesus teaches Martha by telling her that Mary has chosen the better way. But Mary is just lazy and wants to avoid work, right? No. And Martha is trapped in a socially constructed, oppressive gender role that forces her to serve the patriarchy, right? No. Jesus teaches Martha that Mary has chosen the better path b/c she, Martha, is “anxious and worried about many things.” Martha, sister, where is your humility?!

We could ask Martha: “Martha, does your worrying about many things proclaim the Christ in you? Are you presenting yourself as perfect in Christ when you flail around the room throwing off anxiety like clothes set on fire?” Martha might answer, “I am showing our Lord honor by serving him. And Mary is lollygagging at his feet doing nothing!” So, maybe the question we need to ask is: what is it to serve the Lord, and how is that service an honor to him? Martha argues that being up and moving, doing something productive, serves the Lord. It's true. Manual labor does honor the Lord b/c it shows a willingness to work for his sake. Mary seems to be arguing that sitting at the Lord’s feet, listening to him teach, serves him. And he is honored best by allowing him to serve her as her Teacher. The Lord says to all this, “Mary has chosen the better part…” Yes, she has. Not b/c doing good work in the Lord's name is dishonorable, but b/c doing good work in the Lord's name out of fear and worry and anxiety is. Humility never leads to worry. Humility always brings us to peace and docility. Sure, anxiety, worry, and fear can motivate hard work. But hard work – alone – can never bring peace. Mary chooses the better part, the Big Picture. She chooses in humility to allow Christ to be her teacher. 

Choose the better part. No. Choose the best.

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