July 21, 2019, The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 11, Year C
July 21, 2019
The Rev. Anna C. Shine
Readings: Amos 8:1-12; Psalm 52; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strong rock and our redeemer.
I love the scripture we just read. It is so easy for me to relate to both sisters, and I think that makes this story very powerful. Usually I have heard this text as we heard it today, in isolation from the rest of the Gospel. But when we read it with the context of the passages that precede it, it takes on a new light.
First Jesus sends out seventy disciples in pairs to announce that the kingdom of God is near. This mission occurs outside of Israel, meaning the disciples are addressing non-Jews. Therefore, Jesus is expanding his ministry from a particular people, the Israelites, to the whole world. From particular to universal.
In response, a lawyer stands up to test Jesus. Being an expert of Jewish law, he wants to know how Jesus has interpreted the law to validate his expanded ministry. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” he asks. The answer, which Jesus has the lawyer give himself, supports this move towards a universal ministry. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” When love is that abundant, there is no way to limit who we call neighbor. Even the very earth we inhabit is neighbor to us all. So when the lawyer asks Jesus who is his neighbor, Jesus does not directly address that question, but rather gives a parable that shows how a good neighbor acts. In the parable, Jesus shows that the law of love is more powerful and essential to living life than the laws of limitation and purity. The lawyer, priest and Levite get caught up in the head space of compartmentalization, classification, and using dualisms, whereas the Samaritan is moved by the expansive, inclusive, and unitive space of the heart.
The entirety of the passage with the lawyer takes place in the realm of men. Notice that all the characters are men. If Jesus is beginning a universal ministry, however, he must also enter the realm of women, which is why the placement of the Martha and Mary story right after the parable of the Good Samaritan is so important. He has challenged the boundaries of Jewish law, and now he will challenge the boundaries of Jewish culture.
Jesus enters a village and receives hospitality from a woman named Martha, who has a sister named Mary. Mary, having heard of Jesus and his ministry, sits at his feet and listens to his teachings. In doing so, she becomes his disciple. Just to be clear: Jesus has accepted hospitality from women who are not his relatives and has begun teaching one of these women like he teaches his other disciples. As always, his actions are controversial and radical for the time in which he lives. Martha, ever the good hostess, cannot sit and listen to Jesus because there are so many things that the codes of hospitality demand she see to. I can almost see her running around the house making sure everything is tidy and in place while cooking a variety of meals and checking that Jesus’ glass and plate are never empty, and, like any good sister would, glaring at Mary sitting there seemingly doing nothing. So Martha approaches Jesus, and politely asks him, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” It’s difficult not to sympathize with Martha at this point, especially with what Jesus tells her next. “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.” Notice that Jesus doesn’t say that Mary has chosen the right part, which would suggest that Martha’s part is wrong. He says that Mary has chosen the better part. The problem is not that Martha is doing many things or that she has many tasks, but rather that she is distractedby them. A better way, as Mary has shown, is to let go of the distractions and attend to the teachings of Jesus.
Whereas the lawyer, priest and Levite were caught by the limitations of law and purity codes, Martha has been caught by the distractions stemming from following the codes of hospitality. Jesus challenges the laws and codes that keep both men and women from truly being able to understand and practice his teachings.
In what ways are we distracted? How have we kept ourselves from listening to and hearing Jesus in our own lives? We live in a technologically advanced era. The Internet has given us access to so much information, opportunity, and connection with people that it is all too easy to become distracted by the vastness of it all. I can’t tell you how many times I checked my email accounts, my Facebook, or read the news while also trying to write this sermon for today. With smart phones, we now have access to these distractions 24/7. They’re merely a purse or a pocket away from us at all times. But are these distractions in themselves a problem? Not necessarily. When we become attached to these distractions, however, when we cannot notbe connected to them, then we lose sight of living in the present, and, like Martha, will miss the opportunity to participate in the better part of discipleship like Mary.
Martha becomes so distracted by doing the necessary work to provide for others that she forgets the importance of sitting down and experiencing the presence of Jesus, of learning from him and listening to him, becoming his disciple. By clinging to the need to be hospitable she is unable to feast upon and be nourished by Jesus’ word.
Looking once again at the trajectory of these stories in Luke’s Gospel, first Jesus universalizes his ministry, but in order to do this, he has to break down the walls that limit and confine us. With the parable of the Samaritan, he shows us how we should act toward our neighbors, what it means to love neighbor as self, and indicates that who and what constitutes neighbor is everyone and everything. And once we have broken down that wall and have recognized the abundant love that should be given abundantly to all, we must let go of the distractions that keep us from sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to his word, and living by it.
What Jesus says in the last sentence of the scripture is important: “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” To become a disciple is a choice. To let go of the distractions is a choice. And once that choice is made, it cannot be taken away from you. It is yours to make, and yours to take away.
Let us pray…
O God, abundant love, help us to let go…of our distractions, of our attachments, and instead choose to sit at your feet to listen and learn. Open our hearts to recognize and realize your love in the world. And when we are ready, help us to go out and do these things in the world, that we might live, according to your will.