The Better Way

mary or martha

The Pas                       9th Sunday after Pentecost – BAS Proper 16

Proper 11 – Ordinary/Lectionary 16 – Pentecost + 9

Year C

17 July 2016


Amos 8:1–12

Psalm 52 BAS pg 771

Colossians 1:15–28


Ever-faithful God, whose being is perfect righteousness: you reconcile us in your Son with the helpless and the needy, with those we would ignore or oppress, and with those we call our enemies, so that we, as your hands of love, may serve all people and sit at the feet of those who need our compassionate care. Amen.


In our gospel, today, we can see Luke painting us a picture, something we can all identify with from our own life experiences, in today’s gospel.

For example, an old friend, an unexpected guest arrives at our door. Wishing to make a good impression, we pull out all of the stops, and what results is a frenzy of last minute preparation that can, to an observer, resemble panic.

So, let’s look at this from the perspective of Mary and Martha welcoming Jesus into their home.

This morning, we find Martha in the marketplace, shopping for dinner and picking up what is needed for the house. We know what’s on the list, right? Meat, vegetables, fruit for after dinner, wine; maybe some cleaning supplies, and a container of coffee before we run out.

While wandering among the stalls, chatting with her friends, and haggling over the cost of goods, Martha encounters Jesus with his apostles. She knows him from previous encounters. She’s heard of all that he’s done, and her brother Lazarus knows and loves Jesus, as well.

So, she invites him to their home, to dine with them, to spend the afternoon with them and possibly to stay overnight, as well. Jesus agrees, and now her mind goes into overtime.

Is the house clean? When did I last dust? Are the spare beds made up? Are the sheets and towels clean?

Moreover, she looks at the items in her basket. She has enough for herself, for Mary, and for Lazarus, but now Jesus is coming with the 12. This wont do, not for 16, not with Jesus as your guest!

So, she sends Jesus on ahead to the house, knowing that Mary is there to greet them, and she backtracks her way through the marketplace. She picks up a roast, some potatoes, and fresh corn just off the truck, and a nice wine to compliment the meal. She gets new flour to make rolls, and a chocolate cake with a fudge chocolate icing for dessert.

In the meantime, she’s praying that Mary has welcomed Jesus and his apostles to the house. That she’s invited them in, made sure the living room is dusted and there’s toilet paper in the guest bathroom. Has she given them water to wash the dust from their hands and their feet?

All of this runs through Martha’s mind as she turns for home, her basket now much heavier than it was just a short time ago, when she generously opened her home to Jesus and his followers.

When she gets home and gets her heavy basket into the kitchen, she looks around and sees that Mary hasn’t done much of anything!

The breakfast dishes are half done in the sink. The wash basin and towel are on the kitchen table, and at least the towel is wet, but at the same time, as sense of panic settles on Martha, as a tension headache begins to throb at her left temple, especially when she looks into the living room, and she sees Mary sitting on the floor at Jesus’ feet.

She also sees a cool jug of juice sitting on the coffee table, next to a tray of glasses, beads of sweat trickling down the side of the jug to pool at its base, as it sits on the table without so much as a cloth to absorb the moisture, and save the table.

And now Martha sees red!

Knowing all of the work still to be done to make these guests feel honoured in her home, she storms into the living room, and demands that Jesus encourage Mary to help to get everything ready for him, their guest. “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’ ‘Martha, Martha’, the Lord answered, ‘you’re worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’” (Lk 10:40b-42)

We can see this scenario, right? We can understand Martha’s rising temperature, the tension headache, the need for things to be just right for her guests? Yet Jesus doesn’t say that Mary needs to go and help her sister. At the same time, he doesn’t tell Martha to sit down and join them, either.

We often get carried away by the details of our life. We are able to develop a form of tunnel vision that doesn’t allow us to consider anything or any pattern outside of our accustomed tasks. An ability that can carry us away from loving our neighbour as we love our selves, that has the ability to deny God’s guidance in our day to day activities.

Martha looks at the arrival of guests in the same way that people would view the arrival of a cruise ship in a small harbour – smelly, crowded, leaving a mess, and needing to be catered to left and right. But she still invited Jesus into her home. she still encouraged him and his followers to make her home theirs for as long as he’s in Bethany.

But Jesus isn’t our regular guest. Rather, Jesus is the host of any gathering in which he finds himself.

Jesus has so much to teach us, so much to model for us as a way of life, and all we have to do is be open to receive Jesus teachings. All we have to do is be receptive, in mind and heart to the love that God wishes us to model for

Last week, in answer to the question who is my neighbour, Jesus tells us the parable of the Good Samaritan. But before that, if we look closely at the text of last weeks’ gospel, the expert in the law uses the small ‘l’ to talk about law, where Jesus uses the capital ‘L’ to talk about the Law. Love your neighbour as you love yourself, we’re told; go and do likewise, Jesus says.

At the same time, in Matthew chapter 11 Jesus answers the question brought by John’s disciples to Jesus “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”  (Mt 11:4b-5)

John the Baptist had his doubts at the end of his life, of his ministry, as he dwelled on the life he gave willingly to God and ended it languishing in jail. He’d given his life to announcing the arrival of the Christ, the Messiah, the fire and the threshing floor were his images to encourage people to change, to return to the love of God; and he has trouble recognizing the winnowing fork and the threshing rod he had described in Jesus ministry. Instead, what his disciples report back to him is the summary of God’s mercy and love is paramount in God reaching out to all of humanity. John’s disciples see and bring back to John that God’s grace, God’s love is present and that God is bringing people back to God’s way gently, with love, and with grace.

We find it very difficult to love God when we cannot find a reason to feel God’s love in our lives. We find it very difficult to love each other as we love ourselves when the other doesn’t look or sound as we do.

But in the Matthew’s 11th chapter, Jesus doesn’t stop there. Rather he berates those who saw John as a madman, and see himself as a glutton, and a man who cannot keep God’s law. He berates those who cannot love as they are loved because their hearts are as closed as their eyes to the compassion of the world around them.

Jesus prays: “’Yes Father, for this was your good pleasure.’ ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and by burden is light.’” (Mt 11:26, 28-30)

God’s wisdom continues to be hidden from the wise, and revealed to children. God’s love is, likewise, hidden from the wise, and yet is still revealed to children; because in both cases, children look at the world through their hearts, where wisdom is seated in the head, in the intellect and the world claims one can live without the other. They’re quick to judge those who are kind and good and who love as they wish to be loved, and children are able to respond with that kind of reciprocal love.

Jesus knows the burden that Martha has taken on herself in inviting him and his followers into her house. He knows the amount of work that needs to be done, and perhaps the apostles will be pitching in and helping to do up the dishes, clear the table, cook the dinner, and even help to prepare the beds for the night. We aren’t clear on this as the gospel never goes there, and these aren’t traditionally men’s roles.

But if a man can carry a jar of water, to help the disciples find the place to hold the last supper, there has to be a reason why Mary, sitting at the feet of the Son of God, has chosen what is better. Wisdom and love can live together, can advise each other, can open our hearts and our minds to God who is so much greater than we can ask or imagine, and whose ways are not our ways.

In the past week and a half, we’ve prayed with and for those of General Synod. We’ve prayed for their deliberations, as they step into the quagmire that is church politics. And from what I’ve heard, there were predators in that quagmire. There were people who are so obsessed with their mindset of how the church should look, should operate that they came with preconceived notions and didn’t open their minds, much less their hearts to those around them, much less to the influence of the Holy Spirit’s.

Jesus tells us “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (Jn 14:27)

We are unique, here. We live side by side with those whom we have learned to love as we are loved. We embrace, in Christian fellowship, all who walk through our doors, and we adhere to the canons and constitutions of the diocese in which we live. The outside world would call us ‘good Christians’ and this is an earnest compliment.

This week, I wish us to contemplate, to consider the words of Jesus to Martha. All she desires is to be a good host to her guests, and yet her guest, Jesus desires to be a good host to her as well.  Jesus does not put down Martha; rather he seeks to open her heart to the message of love, of sharing the burdens we all carry, to accepting God’s peace not only in our lives but for the whole world.

God desires that we live by God’s law to Love the Lord our God with all our hearts, all our minds, all our soul and all our strength, and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. We heard this last week as we heard the parable of the good Samaritan. We heard that parable as we contemplated who is our neighbour?

Our neighbour is someone next to us. Our neighbour is someone far away. Our neighbour is someone needing our efforts of hospitality in the same way that we need to experience theirs.

We are called to seek out God, to honour God, to love God not just with our heads, but also with our hearts so that it is our hearts that respond to God’s call to love as we are loved. So that we are the ones who are sitting at the feet of our host and absorbing, in every pore, the love the message of peace that can only bring calm to our hearts, peace to our lives, and Christ centred fellowship with each other, every day.


About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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