A number of years ago we all took the Myers-Briggs Personality test, and since then we have had fun analyzing the results, discovering ourselves and each other in a new way. Especially helpful has been the increased ability to answer the ever present question, “Why does she do that?” “Because God made her different from me and it is OK!” One of the challenges of cloistered life is that we live very closely. Differences of personality are keenly felt. It is essential that these differences be not only tolerated, but received, accepted and even celebrated. Difference need not lead to disunity. Rather it is meant to be a source of strength. For if differing personalities can cooperate with each other, it is possible to cover all your bases. The weaknesses of some are supplied by the strengths of others, situations are perceived with a fullness of perspective and better judgments made.
Yet, it is always good to remember that the human person, made in the image and likeness of God transcends his or her personality. Grace builds on nature, but also delights in surpassing it. A naturally reserved Sister may suddenly surprise everyone by dancing with excitement. One who has spent most of her life in practical pursuits may develop a love and talent for poetry. In today’s Gospel of the raising of Lazarus from the dead, we see Jesus calling two sisters of almost opposite personalities to transcend themselves.
Martha and Mary have just lost their brother Lazarus. Jesus, after receiving their message, delays two days and so has missed both the death and burial. Finally he arrives. Martha, true to her quick and practical nature, rushes out to meet him before he even comes into the village. Meanwhile, Mary, faithful to her more reserved personality, remains at home. Jesus enters into a theological discussion with Martha about the Resurrection and elicits from her a profession of faith equal to Peter’s, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.” Martha, the great doer, has paused; she listens, receives, then taking up again her native energy, leaps to a faith filled conclusion that in turn impels her toward her sister, “The Master is here and is calling you”. When Mary hears this, she throws caution to the winds and runs like Martha to Jesus. But then she casts herself down at His feet, her preferred place. In Luke’s Gospel, Mary sits at Jesus feet to listen to His word (to the consternation of Martha) and later she will be found there again, wiping them with her hair. She speaks, and then weeps, baring her heart with her tears. Jesus does not discourse with her, but rather weeps with her. He knows that this is the language she would best understand.
In the presence of Jesus, the two sisters of Lazarus both find themselves and are called out of their selves. Soon they will welcome their brother back from the dead and then Martha will prepare a feast that becomes a transcendent foreshadowing of the heavenly kingdom, while Mary will become a prophetess, anointing Jesus as King and Priest of the Paschal Sacrifice. When we come before Jesus, we too will find ourselves welcomed for who we are, and at the same time called to become more than we are.