Gospel Lesson for Sunday July 21, 2019
38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
The Faces of Hospitality
So. Is Jesus telling Martha that Mary has chosen what is always the ‘better part?’ Or is he (more realistically) telling Martha that because Jesus is there with them at this particular juncture, Mary has discerned the better part for this situation? Scripture is funny that way. Or perhaps we are funny that way. Something that is situational in scripture can so quickly morph into a universal mandate because of how we read the word of God.
What I see in this story of Jesus and his interactions with Martha and Mary is not so much that Martha is not paying attention to the right things and Mary is; rather, Mary is—at that moment—personifying what God wants from each of us… rapt attention and contemplation of God and God’s words to us. Social roles and even religious activity are secondary to our willingness to abandon ourselves into the arms of God and allow him to shape us like a potter shapes clay (Isaiah 64:8) into the man or woman he intends us to be.
Mary and Martha are dimensions of the same Christian experience. We have a Martha and a Mary living together in our hearts and souls… a learner and a doer, a contemplative and an activist, much-loved sisters who live together in the same house! With that in mind, this story raises a question for me about how I prioritize my time between receiving from God and giving to others what I have received! A 4th century desert monastic, Abba Silvanus, wrote, “Martha is necessary to Mary, for it was because Martha worked that Mary was able to be praised.”
Jesus’ visit with Martha and Mary was a respite on the road to his final act of obedience and love for us on the cross. In that light, I think he was not so much rebuking Martha for doing something of lesser importance as he was urging her to understand that in the short time he had left to fellowship with them, perhaps the dishes could wait until later. He was urging her back into community and back into relationship with him—a relationship where no amount of “doing” makes any difference to our God who loves us with wild abandon and exactly as we are.
The one thing we need, Jesus tells us, is to sit down and get to know him (v. 42). When we entertain friends, the conversation is as crucial as the meal; in fact, the meal is often the excuse for the conversation! I imagine Jesus feels the same way when he seeks out our friendship. A simple meal of bread and wine will suffice if it brings us into his presence where he can speak to our hearts and send us back into the world renewed and empowered for service.
And then, as theologian Gerhard Forde once said to his students to help them understand their freedom in Christ, “What are you going to do, now that you don’t have to do anything?” Well?
e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Pastor Dan Hoeger at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602.866.9191.
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website.