Galatians 1: 13 – 24
Psalm 139: 1 – 14
Luke 10: 38 – 42
If truth be told, I don’t much like this passage from the Gospel of Luke about Martha and Mary. It makes me uncomfortable. I hear it as the great Martha put down, with Jesus saying, in effect, “Martha, I like your sister Mary better!”And that makes me uncomfortable. It seems to me to be saying that Jesus prefers some people to others, And that makes me uncomfortable. It seems to me to be saying that Jesus prefers some activities, or rather no activity, to others, or rather any activity. And that makes me uncomfortable. It seems to me to be saying that Jesus prefers contemplation to action. And that makes me uncomfortable. It seems to me to be saying that you can only be in relationship with Jesus when you are sitting at his feet, rather than making him dinner. And that makes me uncomfortable. It seems to me to be saying that when I get busy, doing any number of things, Jesus likes me less, than when I am quiet, and still. And that makes me really, really uncomfortable, because probably like you, I have a zillion things on my to do list, and even when I am supposed to be, I can’t always be quiet and still.
But is that what is really going on here? Is Jesus really making these invidious distinctions between Martha and Mary? Between busyness and stillness? Between housework and hospitality? Between action and contemplation? That’s what we’ve been told over the years, but is it really the case?
During the month of August, while the Chapel is closed, we are reposting sermons that we hope will inspire you to embrace play, rest, solitude, and recreation.
Jesus calls his disciples to many and various good works. In the story today they’re all exhausted. So he calls them to something very different: let’s go for a boat ride and get away from all this. So they go for a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. It doesn’t say whether it’s a row boat or a sail boat, but out they go. It’s time for rest. Resting, getting away from it all, retreating is a spiritual practice. It’s also a religious duty: it’s right there in the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath Rest. The Sabbath Rest in the most literal sense is about taking it easy on the seventh day of the week. But Sabbath pertains to other time frames as well. We might have annual retreats or a monthly retreat day.
I find this story of Mary and Martha quite fascinating. What is it all about? On the surface, the point of the story is clear: Jesus visits the home of Mary and Martha and the two sisters make very different choices about how to respond to Jesus’ presence. One of them, Mary, sits down at his feet and listens to his teaching. The other, Martha, apparently goes off to do some work.
Then Martha comes back to the room where Mary and Jesus are, and complains that her sister has left her to do all the work. She asks for Jesus’ support in this little tiff with her sister: “Don’t you care that she’s left me to do all the work?” But Jesus doesn’t appear to! In fact, he says that it is Mary who has “chosen the better part.”