The 8th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 11C (7/18/2010)

Mary and Martha; and Drawing Near to God

Lessons: Genesis 18:1-10a Psalm 15 (1) Colossians 1:15-28 St. Luke 10:38-42

Semicontinuous Series: Amos 8:1-12 Psalm 52 (8) Colossians 1:15-28 St. Luke 10:38-42

Prayer of the Day: Eternal God, you draw near to us in Christ, and you make yourself our guest. Amid the cares of our lives, make us attentive to your presence, that we may treasure your word above all else, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

38 Now as they went on their way, he 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. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

St. Luke10:38-42. New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Mary and Martha. The names immediately call to mind stories we’ve heard about these two contemporaries of Jesus. Sisters. Siblings of Lazarus. Residents of Bethany (a small village near Jerusalem). Among the early believers in Jesus. Well known to the people of the early church. Mary and Martha: their very names symbolize the tension that has always existed in the Christian movement between action and reflection.

As we see in this brief lesson, Martha is a woman of action: bustling around the house, preparing a meal for her guests, ensuring that everyone is comfortable and cared for, her mind filled with a myriad of tasks to be accomplished in order to fulfill her responsibilities as a good friend and a caring hostess. Mary is a woman of reflection: sitting at Jesus feet (a radical image in itself, for that day: a woman seated at the feet of a religious teacher), soaking up his every word, treasuring his teachings in her heart, allowing his words to shape her and mold her into the woman God needs her to be.

In this lesson, Jesus commends Mary for her attentiveness to his word, and he chastises Martha for being distracted with her many tasks. It seems, at first blush, that he is favoring reflection at the expense of action. But more careful attention to the text reveals that it is not Martha’s action that occasions his disapproval. It is the fact that her action has caused her to be worried and distracted.

Action is every bit as much a part of the Christian journey as reflection. Dozens of passages from Scripture, many of them attributed to Jesus himself, attest to this truth (remember last week’s text, and the Parable of the Good Samaritan). But action is intended to draw us into the life of Christ. It is intended to help us glimpse the face of Christ in our neighbor. It is intended to help us show gratitude to God. When Christian action takes on this kind of character, it is a blessing and a strength to our faith.

Martha’s service isn’t drawing her nearer to the Lord. It has become a distraction. A source of worry. And because of that, she is missing what Mary is enjoying: the chance to sit at the feet of her Lord, and be blessed.

Mary and Martha. Reflection and action. May these two women remind us of the importance of reflection and action in our lives – and how important it is that both of these aspects of our faith journey draw us nearer to the God who desires to grace us. Amen.        

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why did Jesus commend Mary?
  2. Why did Jesus rebuke Martha?
  3. What sort of message do you suppose the early church heard in this exchange?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When am I like Mary, eager to sit at the feet of the Lord, and study the word?
  2. When am I like Martha, busily involved in many (perhaps too many?) activities?
  3. How might I see to it that whether I am involved in action or reflection, I am always growing in grace and faith?