Martha and Mary

Martha and Mary

This post is part of the ON THE WAY sermon series at St Mark’s Anglican Church, Casino July/October 2022

Another very familiar story as we walk to Jerusalem with Jesus.

Again this week, we have a Gospel story that is unique to Luke: Martha and Mary.

We note that Luke places it directly after the Samaritan story. That is an interesting juxtaposition. Luke is matching a story about men with a story about women, but he is also arranging his material to suit his clearly expressed agenda of providing faith formation material for his reader(s). Cf Luke 1:1–4

For Luke, “an orderly account” does not mean “just the way it happened,” but rather, “how I want you to think about it!”

Indeed, perhaps—as some commentaries suggest—the two stories offer a double unpacking of the Great Commandment to love God and love our neighbour. If the Samaritan is often seen as all about compassion action, then Martha & Mary are often seen as a counterbalance with a focus on stillness in the presence of God:

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 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.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” [Luke 10:38–42]

There are many things to note as we reflect on this familiar story:

  • Jesus continues on the way to Jerusalem
  • Martha and Mary are disciples who stay at home and do not follow on the way. In other words, there are different ways of saying YES to God.
  • Women disciples!
  • Household comprised of two sisters (families of different form). There is no male figure! Luke has relocated the scene from Bethany to make his point. John includes a brother, Lazarus, but the sisters still seem to be in charge. 
  • Martha is the hostess: she invites Jesus into her home.
  • Two women having a male guest (what will the neighbours say?) Another boundary crossed
  • Honour/shame culture means Jesus could not offer to help. Just as I am not allowed in the kitchen when visiting an Arab family. Do we need to cross every boundary? What boundaries do we choose not to cross?
  • Jesus did not offer to organise the meal! (Martha, just bring me a couple of fish and a bread roll. I will fix dinner!)
  • Do you not care …? (Cf storm on lake) “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” [Mark 4:38] How we freak out when things do not go as we hope!

In this story we see the tension between task and attitude, but we see it elsewhere in the Bible as well.

There is the famous tension between faith and works in James

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. [James 2:14–18]

And we might compare the classic passage in 1 Cor 13 – without love, good actions are pointless

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. [1 Corinthians 13:1–3]

Of course, it is both, not either. Love without action is empty, and action without love is empty.

Our mission is to love God and also to love people. Both. Always.

Yesterday afternoon I was speaking with a friend from Jerusalem and I mentioned that today we have this gospel passage. Her immediate response was, “But I am both!”

Indeed, and so we all are!

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