(Amos 8:1-12; Psalm 52; Colossians 1:15-29; Luke 10:38-52)
There is tension between Martha and Mary.
Well, perhaps it is more accurate to say there is tension from Martha towards Mary. The sitting sister seems oblivious to Martha’s rising sense of injustice. Indeed, Mary says absolutely nothing throughout this whole narrative.
Mary’s only action is to listen to Jesus.
I wonder if this silence is just what Jesus is looking for. I do not find it particularly difficult to put chores aside – but to sit without asking, that may be more of a challenge. Given an afternoon at Jesus feet I suspect I would be full of questions.
Silence, it seems, is also what God is seeking in the prophecy of Amos’. God is furious with Israel. God seeks to stop their songs and to get their attention. If they are anything, they are too busy to listen. God’s imperative after presenting a vision of a destroyed temple: ‘Be silent’
And his next words: ‘Hear this…’
It is clearly attention seeking language. This is a people who in their desire to make more profit ‘trample to poor’ and ‘bring to ruin’ those in need. But they do not even see this. The Sabbath day of rest has become another an inconvenience. It interrupts and frustrates their desire for gain.
And all the while God sees – and calls.
Martha is an hospitable person. I imagine someone with a reputation for care and invitation – an eye for detail in presentation. Upon hearing of Jesus arrival she generously opens her home. He is ‘welcomed’. Jesus, in an unknown town, has found a place of grace, rest, and shelter.
Luke has introduced Martha as the prefect host.
But, her sister, Mary is introduced in the position of a disciple: she is sitting ‘at the Lord’s feet’. In the traditions of the time, this is a masculine place. There was not really any concept of a male rabbi with a female disciple.
Perhaps it looks all too odd to Martha. After all, Mary’s social, and religious place is in the kitchen with Martha.
But here is Mary perhaps hearing for the first time one of Jesus’ creative parables. Does Jesus recount one of the miracles? Does he tell stories from his adventurous, mysterious life? Is he speaking of salvation? We are not told.
But it would seem Mary’s understanding of this famous miracle worker is growing with every word.
The early church’s understanding of Jesus also grew rapidly. In only a few short years the apostle Paul will write to the Colossians of this one in grand terminology:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and in him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
This Jesus is also the first in other respects: ‘the head…of the church’; ‘the firstborn from the dead’; claiming the ‘firstplace in everything’. Paul continues:
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
It is a vision that drives Paul to put all things aside – even his own safety. He is so in awe of this one that he repeatedly calls himself his ‘servant’. Jesus spans the nations. Jesus is the direction of all Paul’s ‘toil and struggle’.
Jesus is everything.
Of course, Mary cannot see all this in the Jesus she kneels before – or, at least, if she can, neither she nor Luke, lets us know. I like the thought that she captures a glimpse.
I think it is enough for us to know that Mary was captivated by the one before her. In her silence she has seen.
In contrast, Martha is twice described as ‘distracted’ and once as ‘worried’. She is doing all the ‘work’ of preparation. She has a long list of ‘tasks’ to complete. Surely listening to these stories can – unlike these chores – wait?
And, like her list, her sense of injustice is growing. It reaches even to the tipping point of articulation: ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me.’ Martha is not only frustrated with Mary. She has also noticed Jesus’ indifference: ‘…do you not care…?’
Yes, he does. But not about the ‘many things’ that fill Martha with concern. He sees with a staggering clarity: ‘…there is need of only one thing.’
It is almost as though Jesus believes Martha is under the false impression that she is welcoming him. It is fairly understandable – after all she gave the invite, opened her home, and is now cooking and cleaning. But it just might be more accurate to suggest that Jesus, in travelling to her town, is seeking not to receive her hospitality, but to give his.
And it may be that Martha – more than wanting her sister to join her – really wants to join her sister – even if everything in this society would oppose such an act.
Luke’s account ends abruptly. Our writer believes Jesus’ assurance that Mary’s decision to listen to Jesus will not be denied her is enough. Maybe he ends it here because this is the high point, the most instructive, the pinnacle of the account. Jesus affirms Mary’s rebellion: ‘Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’
Even so, it is a nice thought that Martha did stop, sit, and listen. I hope she found enough silence to realise who was sitting in her lounge room. The ‘…one in whom all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell’ is resting on her carefully arranged cushions.
I hope she did, because it just may have resulted in a simpler – but exponentially more memorable – and life-changing – stay for all.