Wow, one week the scripture points us in one direction and then the next week it points in what seems like the opposite way. Last week we heard the parable of the Good Samaritan. The thrust was that we can’t be caught passing people by, that we needed to be busy seeking out the hurting, even those vastly different from us, or enemies or folks from different cultures and serving them. It involves extending hospitality which was very, very important to the culture in which Jesus was ministering. Hospitality is a very interesting and very complicated word. It’s Latin root word, hospes, which means host, guest and is formed from the root hostis which means stranger and enemy. A vast array of seemingly conflicting words flow out of the same root, hospital, hospice, hostile, hostility. In Jesus’ day hospitality was not a necessity of etiquette but a necessity of survival. That is why it figured so heavily in God’s Law. Travelers were at the mercy of strangers when they left their homes. They did not have Seven Day Yeti Coolers on wheels, full of ice, food and drink. They did not have WaWas along the way or McDonalds, Truck stops, or AirB&Bs, or hotels or motels pledging to leave the light on for you. I remember being a kid and my mom and dad would put me in the car at 3am and we would drive to Myrtle Beach. I would wake up when we got there and we would begin driving up and down the strip of motels looking for a vacancy sign as reservations just weren’t a thing. We were not the only ones. I’ve talked to others of my generation and they have the same memories. It was very anxiety producing, so I can’t begin to imagine what Bible times must have been like. Being left out at night left you to elements and at the mercy of bandits and robbers or worse. It, therefore, was a very big deal to be hospitable to all people. But you know that just because things are a big deal or are very important we are often found not doing them. Like the supposedly holy people in the story of the Good Samaritan we pass by those who are in need of our hospitality. In the story the injured man was not accidentally overlooked and it wasn’t that the passersby did not have the ability or resources, it was that they, like we as human beings often do, we disregard the needs of others. We see manifestations of the sin of disregard throughout our world. We become immune to that which should cause outrage. We give in to saying, “well, that’s the way it is.” Is that the kind of world that we want? Is that what the Kingdom of God looks like? No, not at all. It looks like the enemy, the Samaritan that renders hospitality to a stranger. And here is Martha, being hospitable and there seems to be a problem. Tradition has oftentimes been unfair to her. Mary and Martha are there with Jesus and Martha becomes upset with Mary for not helping make household preparations. This is a very confusing story given that it is told in Luke. This is a very important story that does not, as it might seem, set one vocation over another as it may seem to harshly contrast sitting and learning to serving and doing, but instead affirms the ability of all to serve in all vocations. Mary is welcome to sit at the feet of Jesus and be a disciple. In that culture that was not the norm. Women were to be doing what Martha was doing and Jesus grants a new thing and a new norm. Martha’s vocation is not lessened and Mary’s is not elevated above. What happens is that new possibilities are opened and Jesus welcomes all to be disciples. Mary’s vocation and by extension the vocations of all women were opened up by Jesus. The danger of this story is its invitation to what is better. To pit one expression of belief, of discipleship, of service, of vocation, against the other. When we make these kinds of moves and assumptions, we rarely stop to think about what we then assume about Jesus. To favor Mary is to say Jesus discounts service. Which, if you read the Gospel of Luke, makes no sense at all and makes Jesus make no sense at all. To favor Martha would be to say service is all that matters. Clearly, both matter, if you read the Gospel of Luke carefully. So, this story cannot be about who is better or what is better, but rather about acknowledging that barriers are being broken down and now a woman can be a disciple — can sit at the feet of Jesus and learn. This story is not about which is better. Because service and learning are both hallmarks of following Jesus. It’s a story about pointing out what is possible and what God wants to be possible. Once again, Jesus reaches out to who the culture said was the wrong person. This is the Good News, because if we go down the list of wrongness, whether a person wants to admit it or not, everyone will eventually be found on a list. It’s like that old axiom,”anytime you point your finger at someone else there are three fingers pointing back at you.” and who knows what kind of crazy stuff your thumb’s doing. So, everyone, you are welcome to be a disciple of Jesus. You are welcome to be close to him and the gifts that you bring to the table for service are God given ones that are necessary. I have helped coach community outreach building restoration projects with many from different churches and faith communities. They were gathered and doing God’s work. As we worked, I’ve had folks tell me or I would hear them almost apologizing for not being able to do certain things. Some could not hammer, some could not lift, some could not comprehend the mechanics of construction or carpentry, however, all of those there and all of those preparing meals, and all of those running here, there and everywhere getting and delivering, all of those cleaning, decorating, encouraging, connecting and praying, on site and from home. Everyone contributed and no job was a lesser portion. Why is it we so many times that we do not see the value in the wide variation of God’s gifts? Look back at the Gospel for today. Two women, both exercising different and important skills and failing to see the value of the gifts or needs of the other. This is the way that we tend to go about life, elevating our actions, our gifts, our needs and often being dismissive of the actions, gifts or needs of others. THAT is the nature of sin. So often we deem others unworthy for the role of disciple that Jesus insists are more than qualified. Our certainty about criteria for discipleship, Jesus just flips it over and disregards it. Should they be serving or sitting? Hospitality or listening? Attentiveness or learning? Or all of the above? This is a story about the fact that even Mary, even a woman, even those we have determined outside of God’s grace can imagine themselves as disciples and are welcome next to Jesus. It is an indictment on all of how we judge right and wrong, in and out, worthy and unworthy, which are manifested now in our world as racism, sexism, xenophobia, religious bigotry, and homophobia — to name only a few which are driving us to hate and kill one another. Are we able to confess the words of Psalm 15, “O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill? Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart; who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors”? Years ago I was working on a habitat project side by side with a contractor who was a great teacher and very patient. He was sharing two things with me: the best way to get good at something and the way to gain an appreciation for your co-workers. The secret was sort of a walk in their shoes sort of thing. Go in and take your painting seriously and if you pay attention it will make you a better drywall sander. Sand that drywall and it will make you a more serious drywall finisher, finishing makes you a better hanger, hanging will make you a better framer all the way through all the jobs. The house won’t be right if you are missing a single one of those gifts. Each of them needs to be done well by someone who cares about doing it right or it makes everything after more difficult or impossible. All are needed. That is the way of the Kingdom of God. So neither Mary or Martha were doing the wrong thing; they just needed to respect the needs of one another at a given time. There are times we need to be serving and there are times we need to sit and listen. It is those times of learning and quietness and reflection that help us to make wise decisions when in the heat of action. The important thing is being truly present in the moment of doing either one. Remember, the problem Martha was having was being distracted by many things instead of the opportunities before her. So as you go out this week rejoice in the fact that Jesus wants all people to draw near to him and that he has given each of us the gifts that are necessary for our part in building the kingdom of God. Amen…..
Eternal God, you draw near to us in Christ, and you make yourself our guest. Amid the cares of our lives, make us attentive to your presence, that we may treasure your word above all else, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen…….
During his visit to the home of Mary and Martha, Jesus reminds Martha that her concern for her many tasks distracts from the one thing that precedes all else: abiding in the presence of God. The Holy Gospel is according to Luke the 10th Chapter Now as [Jesus and his disciples] went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But 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.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”