“Martha, Martha you are worried and distracted by many things”. Why don’t you just insert my name… “Anna, Anna you are worried and distracted by many things”? Or how about if we put your name in the sentence…is it somehow ringing true? What is it about this line that gets our attention and becomes that nagging inner voice?
More than ever we are an overstimulated, hyper-communicative group of multi-taskers. We Facebook, email, Tweet and voice-to-text in order to talk to each other. We don’t read books, but instead have mini computers in the form of kindles and tablets to read from. We have our ears plugged with little speakers to listen to our music and podcasts while working out, walking around the block and shopping in the grocery store. And how much stuff can we do and think about at once? Can we balance our checkbook online while listening to a podcast and folding towels? Yes. Can we have someone on speaker phone (or Bluetooth), drive, and eat lunch in the car all at once? Yes. And we’re proud of all this! We’re proud because somehow it makes us more efficient, we get more accomplished, we stay busy, and nothing gets overlooked. Whew! And then we hear that little voice “Martha, Martha you are worried and distracted by many things”.
The story of Mary and Martha used to bug me. It bugged me because I identify as a Martha. Martha is the queen of hospitality. Martha is busy and gets things done. Martha is your “go to girl”. There’s a lot to like and respect about Martha. But Martha appears to be the one who comes up short in this story and Mary gets the praise for having chosen the “better things”. “Better things”?! She’s sitting around while Martha is doing all the work! And that’s why it bugged me…I didn’t want to be a scolded Martha.
But let’s think about these two sisters a little more. Yes, Martha is busy, hospitable and she gets things done. In our modern world, she might represent the person who is actively involved in the church and community. We’ll call her an “activist”. Mary, on the other hand, is a listener and a student. In our modern world, she might represent the person in the church community as the “contemplative”…her focus is on prayer, reflection, and deep listening.
For a long time I thought Mary and Martha were opposites being contrasted, but really they are a model for our life in community…you need both Mary and Martha to be a fully participating, mature Christian. You need both the “activist” and the “contemplative”.
I remember in seminary taking a classes on the theology and practice of the Eucharist from Lizette Larson-Miller and Louis Weil. And I remember them spending a lot of time on specific phrases of prayers. In Eucharistic Prayer C, just before the Lord’s Prayer, the priest says:
Open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us. Deliver
us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name.
In other words, help us to see you Jesus. Help us to not only sit at your feet and learn, but also help us to go out into the world to be your disciples.
The closing prayers are prayers of both thanksgiving and petition…thank you for feeding us with this spiritual food and now we go out into the world to do the work God has called us to do.
We come not only to listen, feast and be restored, but we also come to be empowered to work. It’s not an either-or, it’s a both-and. Mary and Martha is not a story of either-or, but a story of both-and. We need to sit at the feet of Jesus so we can be fulfilled and do our work.
“Martha, Martha you are worried and distracted by many things”. And yet, even after being nourished with the spiritual food of Christ’s Body and Blood, sometimes we’re still grumpy with the Mary’s of the world. Why is this? Because we are worried and distracted by many things. We are overstimulated, hyper-communicative and multitasking. But what if, even in our work, we took a moment to pause? What if we took a moment and stretched, looked out the window, took a deep breath, and listened for that still small voice of God? We need to nurture our Mary-side. We need to stop and listen so that we can keep going. This is the Christian life. We cannot ignore our Mary-side.
So as we approach the table for Eucharist today, I invite you to just take a moment. Put the mental “to-do” list on hold. All the things that have you worried and distracted from the presence of God…just put them on hold. Now take a deep breath. Breathe in from the bottom of your belly. Hold it for a second. Now breathe out…feel the presence of God in your midst. You have chosen the better part.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the best known teachings of Jesus. We teach it to our children in Godly Play, we reinforce the ideas of kindness and compassion with our teens through acts of charity, and as adults, we try to be the “Good Samaritan” in our service to others through places like the Warming Shelter and FISH Food Bank. These are all good and noble ways of expressing our identity as Christians in our community, and it aids us in our continuing journey towards understanding and embodying the teachings of Jesus.
But this morning, I want to spend some time really digging further into the characters of the young lawyer and the Samaritan. I want us to look more critically and thoughtfully at this parable and see if there is a deeper understanding of this story that we can begin to embrace.
There once was a young lawyer who had all the answers. And there once was a man named Jesus who challenged the way people had always thought and believed. Now this young man questions Jesus on the law…what must I do to inherit eternal life. He’s looking for the “right” answer. So, to find the “right” answer, Jesus points him to the scriptures and turns the question back on the young lawyer. Of course, because he’s a lawyer, and because he is Jewish, he knows the scripture…to love God with all his heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus affirms that the young lawyer is right. Jesus doesn’t challenge him on his understanding and interpretation of the law. For all intents and purposes, the young lawyer knows everything he needs to get into heaven. Case closed. Done deal.
But, the lawyer pushes Jesus further…who is my neighbor. And then we are told the story of the Good Samaritan. Let’s stop there for a moment and think about this need for the young lawyer to be right and have all the answers.
For this young man, the law had become gospel truth. As Douglas John Hall explains in his commentary, when we make the law the gospel truth, it becomes a refuge of rules, boundaries and norms…it’s what keeps those who are in “in” and those who are out “out”. Was this young lawyer looking for the boundaries around appropriate neighbors? Who would have been good neighbors during the time of Jesus---other Jewish community members. Bad neighbors would have been Canaanites, Romans, and Samaritans…they were on the outside of the community, and they were outside of the Jewish law. For the young lawyer, he would have considered himself a “good neighbor” because he lived within the rules, boundaries and norms.
But that’s when Jesus turned the tables on him. He tells the story in a way that highlights how those who would have been thought to be good neighbors, are the ones who act without compassion and mercy…they walk by as a man lay dying in a ditch. While they may love God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength, based on their lack of action towards the man in the ditch, they do not appear to love their neighbor as themselves. So who does? The Samaritan. The stranger, the outcast, the one who lives outside of the “law” which has created boundaries, rules and norms.
The Samaritan man is moved with pity. He is moved with a feeling of compassion, grief, sadness towards the plight of another, and he acts in such a way as to ease the suffering of a stranger…he cleans the strangers, anoints his wounds, shelters him, and provides for him during his recovery.
His kindness towards the stranger is a reminder of the kindness, mercy and love of God given to us freely, without rules, boundaries and norms. And this is part of the point that Jesus is trying to make with the young lawyer.
But there is another point too…and that is that kindness and compassion often come from the most unexpected and unlikely sources. Loving kindness and compassion are the marks of a true neighbor; not rules, boundaries and norms. The Samaritan was an outsider, remember?
Sometimes it’s hard to understand in our modern world how much of an outsider a Samaritan would have been, and so it is at this point that the parable loses some of its punch. If we took the word “Samaritan” out of the parable and left it as a fill-in-the-blank, who would we put in that line…who are our most unwelcomed…who lives outside the rules, boundaries and norms? Is it a homeless person, a mentally challenged woman, an immigrant, a gay man, an alcoholic, a drug user? Because we live in polite society, we probably won’t say out-loud who we’d fill-in-the-blank with, but this was part of what Jesus was trying to help the young lawyer understand…the potential for human kindness and compassion does not have to be limited to those whom we would choose to receive these gifts from…true kindness and compassion come from all of God’s children…even those who are on the “outside”.
I want to share one final thought with you this morning as you ponder this idea of kindness and compassion. Think of it as a modern telling of the parable of the Good Samaritan. This story comes from the writings of James A. Wallace:
[There was] a twelve-year-old Palestinian boy, Ahmad Khatib, who had been shot and killed by Israeli soldiers during street fighting near his house in Jenin, the West Bank. The boy had been holding a toy gun. He was taken to an Israeli hospital, where he died after two days. His parents made the decision to allow his organs to be harvested for transplant to Israelis. Six people received his heart, lungs, and kidneys, including a two-month-old infant. His mother, Abla, said, “My son has died. Maybe he can give life to others.”
These parents acted out of a place of true kindness and compassion. They were being the “good neighbors” that we are all called to be and were living eternal life.
So my prayer for you today is to keep at it! Keep living the gospel, sharing the love, kindness and compassion that God has shared with you, and be a good neighbor to someone else.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.