July 21, 2019
As a child, I could not wait until Christmas break came upon us. It meant that Christmas was usually less than a week away and the excitement that built up in my family home was almost uncontainable. At least among myself and my younger siblings. The excitement that my parents exuded would at times be present in raised voices because of the anticipation of getting everything ready to host Christmas Eve. Four of my older siblings would return home with their families and the house would nearly be bursting at the seams.
My mother had to get her Martha on, at least a week or two before Christmas Eve. The amount of Christmas treats that she made was incredible. She would plan for dinner on Christmas Eve, which usually consisted of ham and various sides topped with all those wonderful treats that she would make. Over the years, as nieces and nephews were born, and then they began having their own children, Christmas Eve became a good type of chaos. Unless you were my parents because it could easily become overwhelming.
I could see my mother and Martha agreeing on the hecticness of having a houseful of people. Martha’s anxiousness that appears in Luke’s gospel could be expected as she wants to make sure everything is right for Jesus and his disciples. We have no idea how many people came into their home. I am sure that it was Jesus and at least the twelve closest disciples, but nothing rules out that this group could have contained the seventy that Jesus had sent out earlier to share the peace of God and cure the sick. It is the hospitality that Martha is showing now that he had told the disciples to look for.
Mary and Martha have chosen to be hospitable in their own ways and sometimes the better part is to pause and listen to the Lord.
It is not hard to find a sermon that puts Martha in a bad light. She appears to be self-obsessed because she must do all of the work while Mary sits at the feet of Jesus. Mary has stepped out of the norm as she chooses to listen to Jesus and his teachings. Much like the Samaritan last week that stopped to help the stranger, which in Jesus’ time would have been viewed as counter-cultural, Mary chooses to sit at the feet of a male teacher. This was nearly unheard of in first century Israel and if the right person had seen it could have possibly got Mary in trouble.
Jesus’ teachings and actions move well beyond expected norms. Martha is uncomfortable with Mary’s actions and raises her concern to Jesus. She is anxious and wants help. Jesus does not necessarily tell Martha that she is wrong, but let’s her know that Mary is in the right place at the right time. She has chosen the better part. She has released any concerns that she may have so that she can fully turn her attention to their guest, Jesus. We do not hear Martha’s response, but I would like to believe that she began to fully understand what Jesus was talking about in this moment. Martha was serving where she felt called to serve at that time and so was Mary. We each have our own calling that connects us to the body of Christ.
I must admit it is easy to forget that. It is easy to forget that everything we do affects those around us. It is easy to forget that our own actions have consequences, either good or bad. It is easy to get caught up in the anxiousness of making sure our checklists are completed. It is easy for us to get caught up in our work (even if it is the work of the church), in school, with finances, in our relationships, in our time management, in the events of the world, and even in our aging. In all those things, are we preaching the gospel, or is Jesus just an afterthought?
The better part of this is to pause and sit at the feet of Jesus. To listen to his teachings and be fully present to his word. This is the kingdom of God that has came into Martha’s home and Mary has chosen the better part for her of sitting and listening. Perhaps Martha has even chosen the better part for herself if what she is doing is a proclamation of God. For her to project her expectations upon Mary is not what Jesus expects in the kingdom.
We are each called to serve the Lord in various ways and sometimes we must break out of the barriers that fence us in. The Good Samaritan visibly showed this last week by loving his neighbor and caring for his wounds. Mary shows her love for God by sitting at Jesus’ feet and hanging on his every word. While Martha gets caught up in her anxiousness, her act of doing may be the best way that she can express her love for God. The Samaritan and Mary have both broke through the fence of the norms of their day.
Hopefully, we can point to times in our own lives where we have welcomed God into our midst in our lives and the lives of those around us. Jesus helps us break through the barriers that fence us in and welcomes us and walks with us in love. To love others as we love God requires us to break through those barriers. Jesus sets us free! It has happened many times throughout the last couple of centuries as we have confronted the evils of slavery, racism, sexism and homophobia. Not to say that we have fully came to a full reconciliation of any of these, but we have made our voices be heard as we proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus sets us free to open our hearts, minds, and souls to embrace all of God’s beautiful creation.
Jesus also sets us free so that we can love the strangers and refugees among us. Jesus sets us free to love our Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and atheist neighbors. In that freedom we are given the chance to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to his words. The words that bring us closer to him and our lives in the kingdom.
So, let us continue to be hospitable and embrace all of God’s creation with love and compassion. Let us listen to Jesus for what is the better part in our lives.
Let us pray. Loving God, you walk with us and in that we can be empowered as faithful witnesses. We give thanks for the faithful witness of those that have gone before us, those in our midst, and those that will follow. May we be bold in proclaiming your good news and share your love beyond all boundaries. Amen.