Yesterday was our one day VBS. So let me begin by saying thank you. Thank you to each one of you who helped out with this event, from planning, to cooking, from watching kids, to cleaning up, from ordering Pizza to playing games, from crafting to horsing around you all made VBS a wonderful, if exhausting day.
I noticed somethings yesterday that made me think of the scripture I just read. I noticed that some people were really big on relationships. People crawled around on the floor with the kids, even when it wasn’t what was “called for” I also noticed people hoovering around like worker bees, quick to clear off tables and throw away trash. The balance of these two was evident. Things went fairly smoothly, as smoothly as anything does when children are involved!
People were using their gifts and talents to accomplish a common goal. It was fantastic and I am grateful. Everyone did their job and encouraged one another, so good on you.
But as we see in today’s Gospel lesson, this is not always the case in the church or in the Christian community.
Jesus and his disciples are traveling, something they do a lot in the Gospels, and they come to Bethany, the home of Martha. Every time I’ve read this scripture I instantly get the image of Jesus and twelve other uninvited guests popping up at Martha’s door asking for food, shelter and company. However, I looked at it again this week and I realized something. It might not have been Jesus and the 12. In fact, it was more than likely not that group. Just a few short verses earlier we are told that Jesus is talking with the 72 about their successful mission out into the world. Nowhere does it say that Jesus dismissed those other 60 disciples before heading to Martha’s. It is very likely that instead of a group of 13 Martha opened her door to 73 or more!
And now I begin to understand a little bit more of Martha’s anxiety. She is a woman of hospitality. She has been doing the service and table service in her community. The word used to describe her service is the same word used elsewhere to speak of the angels ministering to Jesus during his time in the wilderness. She’s been doing ministry, faithfully. And now she is called upon to bring hospitality to this multitude.
After having had a day of hospitality for 11 kids, that was expected and anticipated, I have a greater respect and admiration for Martha than ever before!
She pulls herself together and begins preparations. But something is bothering her.
I wonder if it’s just a little nagging feeling at first, you know, one of those whispers from the devil on her shoulder. “Why isn’t Mary helping me out?” Perhaps Martha even dismisses it for a little while, after all Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, the words used to describe a disciple, so Martha must understand that Mary would be focused on Jesus. But over time the little pain of unfairness begins to grow. Why am I slaving away and she does nothing? Doesn’t she remember what it’s like around here? Why won’t she get off her duff and do something?
Eventually Martha can’t take it anymore and throws her kitchen towel down on the counter and marches into the living room to give Mary and good talking to. But the first person to meet her eyes is not Mary. It is Jesus. Martha takes a deep breath and decides to talk with him about everything.
At this point the human development/counseling student in me wants to shake her. “Martha,” I want to say “Don’t do it! If you are having a problem with Mary, go to Mary directly, don’t use a go between. That’s triangulating, and its supremely unhealthy!” That’s never the best way to handle conflict I yell at the page. But despite my protesting, Martha always goes on with her next words. “Jesus, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.”
Martha, Martha, Martha. You Jan Brady of the Bible. Jesus turns to her and says “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 take away from her.”
Often after hearing these words I think of Mary sitting there smiling that younger sibling smile. Those of you with younger sibling know the smile I’m talking about. That “ha ha, you got in trouble” smile. But more study of this text has helped me view Jesus’ response in a different light.
Jesus isn’t saying “Martha, you are a failure, Mary is the good sister.” Jesus is not pitting these two women against each other. That’s 2,000 years of church history pressing down upon Martha and Mary’s relationship.
Jesus says you are worried and distracted by many things. What things? Its not the ministry, after all she’s done this. Yes, 73 visitors is a lot, but when hospitality is your gift, it’s just what you do. No, Martha is not distracted by her tasks or by her ministry. She is distracted by her sister. Specifically, by what her sister is not doing.
We see this far too often in the Christian community. We have a tendancey to judge one another by our own callings or standanrds. One church may have a calling to minister to youth and have a thriving youth and young adult program. But what will we hear about that congregation? That they are all flash and enetertainment, no substance. Or that they only care about the young people and do nothing for their third agers.
Another church may have a calling to a certain forgein mission field that they support faithfully sending short and long term mission groups and supporting schools and clean water initiatives. What do we hear about that congregation? Why don’t they help with those in need in their own back yards? Why do they send all of their money and prayers overseas when there are Americans who could use it?
Yet another church may be heavly involved in the “Black Lives Matter” movement, spending time, energy and resources to make sure that the issue of racial inequality is not sweapt under the rug. What do we hear about that congregation? Don’t they know all lives matter? What makes them any more special? Why can’t the church stay out of politics and stick to caring for their own?
My friends, we are far too often distracted by what others do, or don’t do, and by doing so we, like Martha, miss out on the better part.
What is that better part? One commentator says “Mary and Martha cannot be about the better thing that means who is better, who acts better, who can be better.
The better thing is the invitation to believe that you are who God sees you to be.
And that is precisely our problem. An inherent, systemic, omnipresent, ingrained, intrinsic, dysfunctional, disturbing belief that not all are worthy of God’s regard and love. The conviction, as Paul Farmer says, “That all are not equal in God’s eyes. That all are not made in the image of God.”
This untruth, this vicious lie is what keeps us at odds with each other. This keeps us distracted rather than really looking at the world the way Jesus ask us to look. Think about it. The world said let women be silent. Jesus appeared first to the women and then to the twelve. The world says get even, or better, ahead. Jesus says turn the other cheek. The world says take care of number one. Jesus says love your neighbor as yourself.
The better part, my friends, is embracing the “present and not yet” kingdom of God. It is opening our hearts, our doors, our arms to those in need of hospitality. It is listening to the voice of Christ in their voices as they lament their suffering or celebrate their healing. The better part is seeing the child of God, not only in the mirror, but in every face we see.When we can choose the better part, when our hearts are concerned not about what others do, but about what God calls us to do, we become the hands and feet of Christ. We become the living embodiment of the Holy Spirit. We become the family of God.