97 words in the Greek, 116 in the English, Five verses, three characters, Mary, Martha, and the Lord. Yet, many layers of meaning.
This single moment in the Gospel of Luke is like a net cast in a well stocked stream—it hauls in much meat—a multitude of fish, shiny and attractive, each important and interesting in their own right.
These five verses tell us something about Church Work, something about Gender Roles, something about Family Relationships, and something about Ultimate Value.
Church Work, Gender Roles, Family Relationships, and Ultimate Value.
Let us pray.
Church Work, is a funny term—it indicates there is a particular job to do—that things must be done in a churchy way—in fact, there is always a danger that we can focus on being churchy—focus on doing church work, to the point that we forget to do the work of the church.
Consider Pastor Martha.
Pastor Martha was driving to the local nursing home to visit a parishioner—she was doing church work—and it was mighty hot out—and she saw a car stalled out in the middle of the road—a very tired and hot looking couple pushing the car to the side of the road—and she passed by because she was busy and had to do church work.
Then, at the nursing home she passed by a family crying, as she hurried to her parishioner’s room to administer communion—to do church work.
She rushed to the elevator, because she had to get back to church to be at office hours—to do church work—but was stopped by the wife of the family who was crying, and asked to say prayers with the family and stay with them a while—to do the Work of the Church—being the Body of Christ for another in a time of need.
That was the better part.
Gender Roles are something some churches talk about a lot.
For example, focusing not only on if women can preach and preside, but if women can serve communion or carry a cross—I don’t think that would work very well here—without women doing those things I’d end up juggling chalices most Sundays.
But if you engage with fellow Christians for any length of time, you’ll end up running into people who see the faith as being fixated on genders doing fixed tasks, strict roles for men and women both inside and outside of church.
For that reason, it’s important to hear what’s going on in today’s gospel.
Martha invites Jesus into her home. A great honor upon her household I’m sure—the Lord taking time to be with them—it probably brought all the eyes of her neighbors toward her house, and her management of her household.
And then there is Mary—who plops down in front of Jesus—sits at the Lord’s feet.
Think of that phrase for a second.
The Apostle Paul sat at Rabbi Gamaliel’s feet—in other words was his student—he learned from him—he justified his religious understanding based on that time at Gamaliel’s feet.
And Mary does the same with Jesus.
When the disciple Levi ends up sitting at Jesus’ feet at the start of the Gospel of John it’s because he was already sitting down and Jesus showed up—but Mary—she takes the initiative and sits there and learns from Jesus.
What A Scandal.
Think what the neighbors would say? Think what Jesus—this upright Rabbi—this respected teacher—must secretly be thinking but politely not saying!
If Martha was thinking in modern terms, she’d likely be saying “hold on now, don’t Lean In, Mary—don’t take the lead, Mary. Let the system work itself out, Mary—don’t make a place for yourself at the table, Mary, be let in, Mary—don’t rock the boat, Mary.”
And yet Jesus, none to politely—weighs in on this matter—saying Mary had done nothing wrong.
Family Relationships are curious things—each one different. Some families share everything—there are no secrets
/some families share nothing.
Some families fight in public,
/ some families don’t even fight openly in private—instead passively punishing one another and pushing one each other’s buttons.
Other families use third parties to push their agenda. This is called triangulation—there is a dispute between two people and you bring in a third who you believe will side with you and use them as an ally so you won’t need to get your own hands dirty.
That last one is true of Martha—while she is pulled in a plethora of directions, she pulls Jesus in to punish, or at least control, her sister.
Listen to it again—Martha wants Mary to act a certain way, so she forces Jesus into her argument. She embarrasses her guest by forcing him—the Lord—to be party to a private dispute. “Do you not care Lord?” Clearly you aren’t foolish enough to not side with me, Lord. Clearly if you’re a real Rabbi, a Good Lord you’ll agree with me.
She wants Jesus to side with her—she wants to force Mary from Jesus’ feet in order to be on her feet alongside Martha.
But Jesus sides with Mary.
I guess what I’m saying is, if you try to triangulate Jesus, you might end up on the far side of the Isosceles.
Church Work, Gender Roles, and Family Relationships are all important—they are sharp edges of scripture that goad us toward love of God and love of neighbor.
But the central message of today’s reading from Luke is pretty simple. There is need of only one thing.
The thing of Ultimate Value—is Jesus Christ.
We will turn ‘round and ‘round in this life, chasing after squirrels and shiny things.
We will worry and be anxious.
It is in our nature, and our foolish affections, to “seek and strive for many things, but we will not attain them—and if we do—we will not enjoy the possession of them, but instead will find only sorrow and harm.”
Because the one possession that matters—the only one for us to turn to—turn to again and again, repenting daily and remembering our Baptism—is Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ who possesses us and will not be taken away from us. A+A