Come as Mary, Leave as Martha
Inspired by Luke 10:38-42
I was so relieved when I found out this was our gospel reading for today! The last few have been pretty rough. To be fair, it was a combination of tough lessons and tough things happening in the world. Today’s gospel reading his it’s challenges of its own to be sure, but I can’t help but feeling a sense of relief today—especially after last week’s sermon. If you were here or listened to it online, you know what I’m talking about.
I don’t think a sermon has ever caused that much anxiety beforehand. To be honest, I almost chickened out. But I didn’t and I don’t think that is can be credited to me as much as a credit to you. To you, for being the open, welcoming kind of people that you have been to me—the credit goes to you for allowing me to take risks in this pulpit, and more importantly, for giving me the courage proclaim the gospel, even when it is as gut-wrenching as last week’s. Thank you for that gift.
But now on to this week’s. Today we have this short story about Martha and Mary, followers of Jesus, as we continue reading through the gospel of Luke. This story comes right after last week’s story. When we began this trek through the Gospel of Luke at the end of May, I had told you that it was from a large section of Luke called the Road to Jerusalem. And I told you that because it’s the foundation of all these readings in Luke this summer, as we follow Jesus to Jerusalem, to his death.
And our author Luke reminds us as well throughout, as he did today. Our passage began with, “While Jesus and his disciples were traveling…” This isn’t just filler for Luke, he wants us to remember where we are headed, and also that time is of the essence. The characters in these stories may not know, but we know, that Jesus’ time on earth is rapidly coming to an end.
This will important for another reason in a bit but I just wanted to give you that reminder now before we go any further. Also, before we go any further, I wanted to point out how this passage has been a bit controversial over the years. For a feminist, like myself, stories like this can make me a little nervous—especially as a father of three daughters. The picture that this story paints of women isn’t exactly the way we should believe today.
Clearly this story comes from a patriarchal society, where women are the ones who cook and clean and make everything ready for guests—things that we know that men can and should be doing as well. Also, the way that Jesus talks to Martha is usually read with a tone that can seem a bit condescending. Just remember that Jesus was a product of his environment as well, as was our author Luke. So, I just wanted to point this out, not just for women in the room, but especially for the young women in the room, so that you know, that even though this is scripture, we don’t condone this kind of image of women that this story creates.
And like Jesus and our author Luke, Martha too is a product of her society. She is fulfilling her role as a woman in that society the way she was raised. She has a prophet/rabbi/savior in her living room and doesn’t want to disappoint him! For all she knows, if she doesn’t cook the food, clean the house, set the table, Jesus is going to be insulted and leave! But, in his very Jesus way, he says I’m not that kind of prophet. I’m not that kind of rabbi. I’m not that kind of savior. What she doesn’t know, is that if all those things don’t get done, he’s not going to reprimand her, or feel disrespected, or leave. And she also doesn’t know that he’s on the road to his death, and that time, time to listen to him, is getting shorter and shorter. He may have known this, but she certainly did not.
I believe Jesus is right to tell her that Mary is the one who has chosen the right path…in that context. However, where we err is when we try to apply this to each and every context today. In other words, in a different context, Martha would be the one that Jesus is praising. Because as I said, it’s not what she was doing that was the problem, but it was allowing what she was doing to distract her away from Jesus, rather than closer to Jesus. Let me give you an example.
We recently had a funeral for Etta Bonilla. At the conclusion of that funeral, I was able to say that there was a wonderful reception waiting for them across the hall. I hadn’t been back there, I had no idea what was being served, but what I did know was this, there were a handful of Marthas back there, Randi, Susan, Phyllis and others, and so I knew, all would be well. Would Jesus tell them they were in the wrong, absolutely not.
Here’s another example, whenever there is a something that needs done around here, whether it’s a broken thermostat, sound equipment, or the paper towels need restocked, you won’t see me worried. Why? Because I know there will be a Martha to take care of it! Ron, Eric, Frank, or someone, will take care of it. Is Jesus going to scold them? Absolutely not! The only thing I worry about is our Marthas getting burned out, because like many organizations, we always seem to have more Marys than Marthas! But that’s for another sermon! My point is, it’s ok to be a Martha, and it’s ok to be a Mary, there’s a time and place for both, in fact, I believe that our baptismal call is to be both a Martha and a Mary.
Our weekly routine of worship and everyday life speaks to that. Here, in this place, each Sunday, we come to sit at Jesus’ feet, like Mary, listening to Jesus, gazing at Jesus lovingly, hanging on every word, with Jesus playing the part of Martha, welcoming us to the table, to be nourished, to be transformed, for the work that lay ahead of us in the coming week. And then we leave here as a group of Marthas, ready to tackle whatever may come, welcoming all, making disciples, serving neighbors—sometimes together, as a church, but often times as individuals, in our everyday lives—remembering not to let our work distract us away from Christ, but to allow it to bring us closer to Christ. So, come to the table all you Marys, so that you can leave as Marthas. Thanks be to God. Amen.
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