THE REV. ROBERTO DESANDOLI
6th Sunday after Pentecost
Amos 8: 1-12
Colossians 1: 15-28
Luke 10: 38-42
38 Now as they went on their way, [Jesus] entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 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.”
41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing.[a] Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
The story of Mary and Martha.
A very short Gospel story about a very simple event in Jesus’ life, but one that strikes closer to home for friend, family, and church relationships than any other.
Martha – the responsible
Mary – the Idle
(or, from the other perspective)
Martha – the distracted
Mary – the faithful
A single story with twovery different perspectives. Mary’s views of herself and her sister, and Martha’s views of herself and her sister. Just like any sibling quarrel, the truth is somewhere in the middle: Martha – generous, hard-working, but not especially humble; Mary – attentive, unhurried, though maybe a bit inconsiderate.
In this morning’s Gospel reading, as we peer into the home of Mary and Martha, we witness a couple of very different stories that are crafted out of the same brief event.
As Martha is busying herself in the kitchen, hearing the muffed voices of Jesus and Mary from the other room, she is getting more and more agitated that she has been left to do all of this work by herself. Finally, she comes out to where Jesus and Mary are and asks “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
Jesus responds, of course, with love: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.”
On first reading the answer is simple enough: be like Mary, don’t be like Martha. Take time to sit and listen to Jesus, either in person or in Scripture. Don’t be distracted by the things of this world, take time to enjoy God.
Only, there’s a problem.
If we go back to the beginning of this reading at verse 28 we find that if it weren’t for Martha, Jesus would not be in the home at all! There it reads “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.” Suddenly, Mary doesn’t look quite as pious and as perfect as she appears in her version of the story.
From where Martha is standing, her idle sister owes her everything for taking the initiative to bring Jesus into her life.
But, surely, Martha’s good work did not end there. As a good hostess, she no doubt invited him to make himself comfortable in the sitting area and excused herself to go into the kitchen to prepare some refreshments to attend to the hunger and thirst of her guest. As she was busily preparing a plate and a cup to set before the stranger, Martha began to feel impatient with her sister Mary who was sitting at Jesus’ feet, not even offering to help her in the kitchen.
“Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
Two different versions of the same event from two different sisters.
From Mary’s position on the floor, it is the story of good, studious Mary and her sister Martha—the proud busybody.
From Martha’s perspective in the kitchen, it is the story of responsible and long-suffering Martha and her sister Mary—the idle and inconsiderate.
A moment ago, we named what is the surface level lesson of this Gospel teaching: be like Mary, don’t be like Martha:
Take time for prayer and Bible reading
Take time to attend church and work out your salvation
Don’t be distracted by the things of this world
And while this perspective is dismissive of Martha’s experience, we can see the truth in it:
It is important to take time for prayer and Bible reading
It is important to attend church and work out your salvation
And it is important to make efforts not to be distracted by the things of this world
However, the danger is that if we aspire to be too much like Mary, we might find ourselves “where we should be” doing what we “should be doing” but listening less to the words of salvation being spoken by Jesus and listening more to the voice self-congratulation within ourselves. At worst, we would become like Mary in being oblivious to the blessing that the Martha’s of the world are to us and to Christ.
Throughout Scripture, Jesus speaks about his mission not to be served but to serve, He speaks about his blessings for the poor and the meek, and through His actions He demonstrates that his mission of love and grace is all about those who seem to have nothing left to hope for in this world: the crippled, the blind, and the lame.
Even if the surface reading of Mary and Martha is true, even if it is the case that Martha is distracted and this-worldly and Mary is righteous and faithful, Jesus’ mission of salvation is still about Martha. He is still in the house because of Martha. He is still there to give a message of Grace to Martha. The one who most needs to hear it.
Even if the surface reading of Mary and Martha is true, and we are the good Marys and those people not at church on Sunday morning are the distracted Marthas, Jesus’ mission of grace is still about them. And further, Jesus mission for us and for the whole church is also about them.
As Martha came out of the kitchen to make her complaint and to ask Jesus to tell Mary to get up and help her, Jesus gave Martha the opportunity to “turn around” and see things in a different way:
“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Through this reply, a number of things are revealed:
The first and foremost is that Jesus loves Martha. Jesus has concern and care for Martha. Jesus wants Martha to be saved.
The second, is that even though Jesus speaks through Mary; even though He gestures to her in His answer, He goes no further than that. Jesus does not hold Mary up as the image of perfection. Jesus does not elevate Mary about Martha. Jesus does not outsource his wisdom to Mary. He simply names what is happening.
When Jesus gives his gentle rebuke to Martha (that Mary has chosen the “one thing”) He does so in a Graceful and Loving way. He doesn’t say that Martha is wrong and Mary is right. He recognizes that neither of them is in control of their own fulfillment on His word: Mary was not in control when Martha brought Jesus into their home while she was sitting around; likewise, Martha was not in control of her own busy-ness once Jesus came inside. Both Mary and Martha ended up needing each other to receive the Grace that they ultimately got in receiving Christ into their home and lives.
If we strive to understand that Christ’s presence in our lives (be we Marthas or Marys) is more about God’s Grace than our control, we also strive to see the humanity in the one other than ourselves.
If we recognize that by being carried into the church as infants, we have been given a gift of faith beyond what we could achieve on our own, we will be more patient with those friends who tell us they “don’t have time for church.”
If we have ended up in the church later in life and feel like we don’t always know what is going on, that we don’t know enough about God or the Bible, or that we don’t truly belong, we can see that Christ has gone to great lengths of Grace for us to be here. And has used our whole lives to bring us His Word.
If we see ourselves as Marys, we can further appreciate the Marthas of the world.
If we see ourselves as Marthas, we can further appreciate the Marys of the world.
But no matter what we recognize, through the Grace of God that we have received, we see that everything we are and everything we have and everything we will become is a gift of God’s Grace, and not of our own doing.
Coming back to Jesus’ response to Martha, what do we suppose happened after Jesus spoke these loving and grace-filled words?
Do we think that Martha turned around and went back into the kitchen, continuing to grumble about Mary under her breath? Or do we think that she responded to Christ’s Grace with some of her own, that she came to sit and listen to the Lord; to participate in this lesson of Grace for herself and those she would bless with her witness of the day she met Jesus?
How we answer this question depends on how we think about ourselves as faithful, church attending Christians and how we think about our non-attending neighbors.
If we think that those who are “too busy for church” are beyond the saving Grace of Christ, Martha will go back into the kitchen.
If we think (sadly) that we are in this church because of our own good discipline and our own efforts, Martha will go back into the kitchen. Doomed to miss out on the salvation and love of Christ.
However, if we recognize that we are all beneficiaries of Christ’s Love and Grace, that we are not really in control of our own fulfillment in Christ, that we recognize we are only here because of a neighbor’s kindness and God’s goodness, then Martha stays with Mary and Jesus.
As we look out the windows of this church at a world and a people that seems “too busy” or “too preoccupied” for church, which way would Christ have us see them?
As a final thought to consider, let us take care to remember where Jesus was when Martha first invited Him into her home, (today we have spoken about what happened once Jesus was inside and the conflict between Mary and Martha arose; but before all that Luke tells us that Jesus and his disciples were on their way when they entered a certain village.
Truly, Jesus did intend to come into Mary and Martha’s lives, Jesus did intend to teach them (and us) about Grace, Jesus did intend to remind us about the “one thing that will not be taken away from us.”
But before this lesson took place, Jesus and the disciples were simply on the road and entering another village, not so dissimilar from the last or the next. Knowing this, that the Grace of Jesus Christ is so free as to be available in every unnamed village in Judea, can we commit ourselves to the faith that this Grace is also within our own villages.
That the Grace of Jesus Christ is within the city of Saskatoon? That the Grace of Jesus Christ is present in the downtown core? That the Grace of Jesus Christ is present at the corner of 20th Street and Spadina Crescent?
As we go forth into these summer days, can we commit to the faith that when we behold the stranger at the park across the street, or at the grocery store, or simply walking the streets of our neighbourhood, that we behold not just a stranger, but the indwelling love of Jesus Christ? And that, just like Mary and Martha, we would be far poorer off if we did not learn this beloved person’s perspective and this beloved person’s witness to the Grace of the Risen Christ?