This story sticks with me. It always has. There’s something about it which tickles and fascinates.
What is Jesus getting at with Mary? What is she doing which causes her to be doing the “right” thing? What is Martha getting wrong?
Proper 11C | Luke 10:38-42
Several years ago, a friend who was an engineer told me that this is the engineers’ least favorite scripture. It seems to be condemning hard work and exacting patience.
As he was telling me this, I could see his energy rise and there was nothing I could say or do which would convince him that there may be another way to look at it.
This is important to recognize: how we approach the scripture. How we approach Jesus.
We recall last week that the lawyer approaches Jesus with his own ideas, seeking to trap him. But notice that he is a lawyer, one who not only studies law, but knows The Law. He is familiar with Torah and what the rules coming from Torah will say.
So when the lawyer asks about inheriting eternal life, Jesus asks him what The Law says. His response, what we know as the Greatest Commandment is familiar: love GOD and love your neighbor as yourself.
We also know that these two pieces are shoved together: one from the most common prayer of the Jewish people: the Sh’ma. It begins
Hear O Israel the Lord your God the Lord is one.
We then pray that we are to love GOD with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
The second half, which comes from Leviticus is interesting for what is not included. The whole verse the lawyer draws from is this:
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.
The richness of this response:
love GOD and love your neighbor as yourself
is weighed, not just in some hippy dippy love command, but in light of the depth of its challenge.
Love with everything you’ve got. Love in prayer, in worship. Love your neighbor. Don’t seek vengeance or bear a grudge. Love them with everything.
Mary and Martha.
This chapter in Luke, we remember is full of discipleship. The 70 go out to all the nations and heal in the name of Jesus. Jesus prays and rejoices. Jesus teaches the lawyer that his neighbor is not just the people of our tribe, but of any tribe who show love to the stranger. And then we arrive here, at the home of two sisters.
So we’re full of neighborliness and healing and love and that the mission of Jesus is to be showing love in action.
This is, of course, what my engineer friend argues he’s doing and what Martha is doing. Showing the love of hospitality.
It is easy to get caught up in this strange dichotomy. One sister, Martha, doing all the leg work of preparing the food they will eat. The other, the entertaining role of Mary, relaxing at Jesus’s feet. It is hard to see how Mary has chosen the better part because Martha is doing what is expected of her, right?
Doing versus presence. That’s how we frame this story. That’s our frame. That’s our approach. But I don’t think that’s Luke’s frame.
The disciple’s work is healing and restoration; it is not in doing things by themselves, but in pairs. They were just sent out into the world by twos. Martha, toiling in the kitchen all alone is not doing a disciple’s job. She isn’t playing the better part, because she is doing it alone!
Mary’s part is better. There, in the big room, at the feet of Jesus, among the disciples, as one of them. She has taken the better part because Jesus has given her the better part. Sitting with the team as a team.
How often do we find ourselves alone in ministry? How often do we find ourselves saying
“Well! Let me just fix this thing here. It’s faster if I just do it myself.”
How do we invite help? How do we invite, not only Mary, who we expect to join us in the kitchen, but Jesus and the other disciples? How often do we invite the whole team into the snack preparing process?
How often do we make like the Lawyer and think about the rules of entertaining and forget that Jesus wants us out, gathered as a team? How often do we make our own sense of right and wrong, our own sense of importance and values be the value of the community?
How often is healing and restoration our goal? How often is it more important than being right?
Maybe we sit at the feet of Jesus. Maybe we get out of the kitchen and we sit with Jesus and all the disciples. As men and women and children and seniors and the disabled and the aged and the weak and the short and the tall and the tattooed and the bacon-eaters and the saints and the sinners all and we acknowledge that we are disciples of a living Christ. And our work is to heal, not do dishes. Our work is to restore, not entertain. Our work is to love, not shuffle papers. Because these are part of our work, not the whole of it.
We are called to love. Love. Love.
May your love light up this room. May your love light up every room you enter. May your love light up the faces of all your neighbors. Amen.