Over the last ten weeks of our summer message series, we’ve been learning about biblical heroines who literally saved the day when the men around them were about to drop the ball. But this weekend another woman, Mary of Bethany, teaches us a different kind of lesson. While others plant their feet firmly on the ground preoccupied with the important matters of this world, a hero first and foremost remains devoted to God.
Mary lived with her sister, Martha, in a small village two miles away from Jerusalem. They had become close friends of Jesus, who frequently traveled through the area. On one occasion, he stayed for dinner, and the Bible records a humorous story of Martha’s ire being raised against her sister. Instead of helping Martha with the cooking, Mary just sat at Jesus’ feet with the other disciples, listening to him speak. When Martha burst through the kitchen doors demanding that Jesus make her sister get off her lazy duff and help, he told her that Mary had chosen “the better part” (Luke 10:42).
When their brother, Lazarus, later fell ill, Martha and Mary sent word to Jesus to come and heal him. In those days, the Jews believed the soul was still present until the third day, departing the body once the facial features had become disfigured. Everyone knew, therefore, that Lazarus was truly dead when Jesus had tarried too long and arrived on the fourth day. Both Martha and Mary ran to him. While Martha articulately professed her faith in words, Mary the dreamer simply fell at his feet weeping. Her wordless posture was a poignant and profound sign of her immense faith and devotion to Christ.
Some time after Jesus had stood between life and death and uttered the name of his beloved friend to come forth from the tomb, he again arrived in Bethany for a dinner party, perhaps a dry run of the Last Supper that would take place less than a week later. Everyone gathered at the home of Martha and Mary. Even Lazarus, fresh from the grave, reclined at table. The whole town was abuzz with the news.
While Martha attended to hospitality and serving and the men enjoyed the meal, Mary, once again with her head in the clouds, stepped forward in a bold move. Of all the people gathered, it was Mary of Bethany who recognized the true significance of the event. In a few short days, “the teacher” would no longer be with them. Mary knew she had to do something, and in fact she did something extraordinary in her own way. To learn more about Mary’s fascinating story, tune in to this Sunday’s message on our website.
Mary of Bethany reminds us that God’s heroes are not always super heroes. They do not always perform great and mighty deeds but simply “do what they can” because of their deep devotion to the Lord.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
I am typically an optimistic and happy person, in large part because I refuse to watch the evening news. With its constant focus on scandals, political infighting, and violence all framed by a media-manipulated agenda, the news cycle du jour only serves to distract me from the good news of Jesus Christ, who came to break the cycle of sin and death in our world.
By no means would I suggest, however, that religion and worldly affairs are somehow immiscible like oil and water. “Civilization,” wrote Jesuit Father John Courtney Murray, “is formed by men locked together in argument.” Moreover, the institution of public discourse that develops from sustained dialogue in the public square necessarily includes the reasonable claims of religion. In particular, Catholic values and principles have served to shape western society for over two millennia. At critical junctures in the history of the world, the Church’s moral teachings have not hesitated to speak truth to power.
Our heroine this week in our message series on female heroes of the Bible, Queen Esther teaches us that a hero refuses to remain silent in the face of political abuse. “Mum” was the word for years, as Esther played the political game after being deported to a foreign country in the Babylonian Exile around the sixth century B.C. Taken into the harem of the most powerful monarch in the world, Esther concealed her Jewish identity but eventually rose to power when she pleased Xerxes, the King of Persia, more than any other woman.
Crisis soon threatened the Jewish people when an anti-Semitic madman bent on exterminating them stirred up a genocide among the pagan people living in what is now modern-day Iran. The time finally had come for the “big reveal.” Living under the thumb of a despotic king, Esther played a dangerous game in a desperate attempt to save her people. To learn more about her fascinating story, tune in to this Sunday’s message on our website.
One of the more demanding challenges from the Second Vatican Council was the call to reflect deeply on the events unfolding in the contemporary world. As the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et spes) put it, “the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel” (n. 4).
In our postmodern secular world today, the rapidly growing culture of religious apathy and hostility threatens to stamp out faith and the moral order almost entirely. The words used by Esther’s older cousin and foster father, Mordecai, to prompt her to action apply equally to us today: “[I]f you now remain silent, . . . you and your father’s house will perish” (Esther 4:14).
Like Esther, God has placed you in a position of great influence. Speak truth to power today, because a hero does not remain silent.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
A truly awful king had come to rule the northern kingdom of Israel almost 900 years before Christ. Indeed, King Ahab “did evil in the sight of the Lord more than any of his predecessors” (1 Kings 16:30). And that was saying a lot, since the people of Israel recently had suffered a parade of reprobate kings.
But perhaps mostly through the influence of his idolatrous wife, Jezebel, Ahab took the extraordinarily monstrous step of constructing a temple dedicated to the pagan god, Baal. This false god was worshiped by Jezebel and the people of her birthplace in ancient Phoenicia, which was located in what is now the coastal region of Lebanon and Syria.
The prophet Elijah was fit to be tied. Outraged he confronted King Ahab and told him that a terrible famine would spread through the land because of his actions and that the heavens would remain shut until Elijah gave the word. Although Ahab and Jezebel searched relentlessly for the insolent prophet who had dared to challenge the royal family, he hid in the wilderness near a stream where ravens brought food to him.
When the brook eventually ran dry, God instructed Elijah to go and stay in a territory near the Mediterranean ruled by Jezebel’s father. A widow there would provide food for him. Elijah obeyed and, as he approached the town of Zarephath, he spotted a woman gathering sticks and called out to her to bring him a cup of water and a piece of bread. She reminded the apparently clueless stranger of the drought that had decimated the land. “I don’t have any bread,” she said. “I only have a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug” (1 Kings 17:12). She had been gathering the kindling to make a fire to cook one final meal for herself and her young son before they both died of starvation. “Do not be afraid,” Elijah said, reassuring her that her generosity would not go unrewarded. The widow complied and was blessed by God.
Elijah must have had some serious reservations about receiving help from a Phoenician woman. Although they lived in close proximity to Gentiles in that region, faithful Jews of the time would not have mixed with the goyim. Elijah must have been further astonished by God’s command to reside in an area that was governed by the father of his worst enemy and the very person seeking to have him killed. But time and again God used unexpected heroes to advance the story of salvation in the Bible.
Our heroine this week in our message series on female heroes of the Bible, the widow of Zarephath teaches us that a hero has the courage to be generous because of her great faith. Listen to her amazing story in our weekend message or online at www.stbrendanparish.org, and then look for ways to be generous with others.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Without a doubt, Nabal was a fool. In fact, the name itself means just that in Hebrew. The Bible describes him as “surly and mean” (1 Samuel 25:3). Though extremely wealthy, he was harsh and ungenerous in his behavior. Even his own servant said that “he is so mean no one can talk to him” (25:17). But what made Nabal a fool was his dimwitted response to a reasonable request made by another powerful man in the region, the soon-to-be King David.
After slaying Goliath, David had become a local hero. Women all over the land were singing his praises, and “all Israel and Judah loved him” (18:16). Jealousy quickly took hold of King Saul, who had led the men in battle. He became furious and tried to assassinate David, first by hurling spears at him in a fit of rage and then by placing him in harm’s way in military battles.
The state of affairs eventually became intolerable. David was forced to flee and go into hiding. A fugitive in the wilds, he took refuge in a remote cave, while Saul and his men pursued him relentlessly. David’s brothers and other relatives soon joined him, as well as 400 other men down on their luck (22:2). David and his band of misfits repeatedly dodged the soldiers sent to kill them, and eventually found themselves in the Desert of Maon, west of the Dead Sea, where Nabal the Fool lived like a king.
With his men, David became a local Robin Hood, protecting farmers and shepherds from the frequent raids of brigands and Bedouins. Rather than extract payments in return for their protection, David and his men asked nicely for help. On one occasion, David requested whatever food Nabal could spare from his abundance, but the fool “flew at them screaming” (25:14) Even though they had protected his crops and sheep, Nabal refused the request, pretending not to have heard of David and comparing him with runaway slaves and drifters. David and his troops mounted a furious assault in response, bent on killing every man and boy in Nabal’s household to avenge the insult.
“But then, into the midst of the chaos, beauty appears. A daisy lifts her head in the desert. . . . A whiff of perfume floats through the men’s locker room. Abigail, the wife of Nabal, stands on the trail” (Max Lucado, Ten Women of the Bible, Thomas Nelson, 2016, 60). In contrast to her boorish husband, Abigail had both brains and beauty (25:3). With food in her hand and an apology on her lips, she thwarted disaster.
Our heroine this week in our message series on female heroes of the Bible, Abigail teaches us that a hero makes peace when tempers flare. Listen to her amazing story in our weekend message or online above, and then find ways to be a peacemaker in your own life.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Father Roger Gustafson