5. Sunday after Trinity
At the end of the tenth chapter of St. Luke’s gospel we have a few homely verses telling of the welcome into a home that Jesus has received from a “certain woman in a certain village”. This was however no ordinary home, it was the home of Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary from the small village of Bethany outside Jerusalem. This home was iconographic in the building up of the young Church.
Luke wrote these words after 70 AD at the onset of persecution of the Church in and around Jerusalem. With that background this chapter first recalls the mission of the 70 apostles Jesus had earlier sent to bring people to the kingdom of God. It had not been easy for them and required considerable self-discipline and sacrifice. By the time Luke wrote, Stephen, and possibly others of the seventy, had already been martyred [Acts 6+7.] The apostolic mission was by 70 AD in its post Pentecost stage and new converts must remember the Lord’s teaching on what St. James called the “Royal Law.” This was the distinct and Godly behaviour needed within their fellowship, rather than a partial faith and lukewarm lifestyle of the world that surrounded them [James 2; 8].
The Pentecostal mission would not work if the young church was simply being self reliant, modelled on worldly ways, looking for popularity, dramatic healings and celebrity status. The Church fellowship needed to be self correcting and living at a wholly deeper level. Luke next underlines the Apostolic Mission with his most well known parable, the “Good Samaritan”. This Christ-like figure unlike the official religious dignitaries, without hesitation, takes care of the stranger using oil and wine and getting him to a place of refuge. This was the “Royal Law” at work, using the oil and wine of the sacraments and the refuge of the community of Christians. It is now that Luke builds on the instruction from the real life example in Bethany many would know well, teaching that the “Royal Law” begins in the home with us, bringing different gifts to our relationships among neighbours.
Many homes had already played this role during Christ’s own lifetime both in Galilee and before his trial in Jerusalem, and now as the Pentecostal mission progressed, good men and women, their homes and families would become essential foundations for the building of the body. The two sisters of Bethany stood out as examples of “being the Church” not just at the time Jesus raised Lazarus but even after the Ascension and the years that followed when the Church relied on the hospitality of many homes and the active welcoming, practical ministry of women like Martha or the devotion, and contemplation of Mary who dwelt on the Lord’s words and displayed acts of love.
Luke continues to see “The Royal Law” at work in the Acts of the Apostles, with Paul’s reliance on Priscilla and Aquila, Lydia and many other homes, to which he pays tribute in his letters and without which the Church cannot exist. The home at Bethany is like the Samaritan’s Inn, vital too as Jesus needed to move from region to region with his friends. Without homes like the Bethany sisters, with their home and their different gifts the Church in Jerusalem could not continue.
We are speaking about the front line of Church life, sustaining the building up of the unique spiritual and doctrinal fellowship which every Bishop, Priest, Cardinal or Patriarch must have for a meaningful ministry. Sadly the established Churches of today have not only neglected this foundation, they have followed business and corporate models, turning things upside down running everything from the top and rendering the local Christian communities confused and impotent to hostility that surrounds them.
Fr. Geoffrey Neal