The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Pastor George Pejakovich
Luke 10:38-42

FIRST OF ALL, I WANT TO SAY THAT I CAN EMPHATIZE FULLY WITH MARTHA, BECAUSE I HAVE WALKED IN HER APRON, SO TO SPEAK. ONE CHRISTMAS A FEW YEARS AGO, WE WERE GETTING READY FOR OUR ANNUAL FAMILY DINNER, AND, AS USUAL, I WAS DOING THE COOKING, AND, AS ALSO USUAL, I HAD PREPARED A GREAT FEAST. WE WERE EXPECTING 12 IN ADDITION TO OURSELVES, SO I BROUGHT OUT AN EXTRA TABLE AND CHAIRS, AND SET THE EXTENDED TABLE WITH 14 PLACES. THE TABLE LOOKED GREAT WITH THE GOOD CHINA AND FANCY GLASSES, AND THE BEAUTIFUL CENTER PIECE MADE BY JOYCE. ABOUT TWO HOURS BEFORE DINNER, WE GOT A CALL SAYING WE WOULD BE SHORT TWO PEOPLE, SO I RESET THE TABLE FOR 12. AN HOUR LATER, WE GOT ANOTHER CALL SAYING THAT THE TWO FAMILY MEMBERS COULD MAKE IT AFTER ALL, SO I RESET THE TABLE FOR 14. A HALF HOUR BEFORE DINNER, WE GOT ANOTHER CALL TELLING US THERE WOULD BE TWO MORE ADDED TO THE GATHERING, SO I RESET THE TABLE A FOURTH TIME SQUEEZING IN 16 PLACES ON A TABLE MEANT FOR 14. IN THE COURSE OF TWO HOURS, RUSHING FROM KITCHEN TO DINNING ROOM, SETTING AND RESETTING THE TABLE, WHILE CHECKING ON THE FOOD, I WENT FROM GRACIOUS HOST TO GRUMPY OLD MAN AND SPAZZING OUT LIKE MARTHA. I TELL YOU THIS BECAUSE THE STORY OF MARTHA AND MARY IS NOT SIMPLY A WOMAN’S STORY, ABOUT TWO WOMEN AND FOR WOMEN ALONE; IT IS A STORY ABOUT DISCIPLESHIP.

THERE IS A LOT GOING ON IN THIS SHORT GOSPEL PASSAGE, AND THE ENGLISH TRANSLATION MISSES A LOT OF THE NUANCES OF THE GREEK. FIRST OF ALL, WE DON’T KNOW WHERE THEIR BROTHER LAZARUS WAS, BUT WE MUST PRESUME THAT THE RELATIONSHIP OF THE FAMILY TO JESUS WAS CLOSE ENOUGH THAT MARTHA, AS THE PROBABLE OLDER SISTER, COULD SERVE AS THE HOST TO JESUS AND HIS DISCIPLES. 13 MEN SHOWED UP AT HER DOOR, AND MARTHA GRACIOUSLY WELCOMED JESUS AND HIS DISCIPLES TO HER HOME. THE DUTIES OF A HOST WERE VERY CLEAR IN FIRST CENTURY JUDEA. WATER WAS PROVIDED FOR THE GUEST’S FEET, HANDS, AND HEAD. THEN, THEY MUST BE OFFERED A MEAL. MARTHA DOES WHAT IS EXPECTED OF A HOST, WHICH IS RIGHT AND PROPER, BUT WHILE SHE IS DOING HER DUTY, MARY SAT AT THE FEET OF JESUS AND LISTENED TO WHAT HE WAS SAYING.

MARY SAT AT THE FEET OF JESUS IN THE POSITION OF A DISCIPLE, WHICH WOULD HAVE BEEN TOTALLY UNEXPECTED FOR ANY OTHER RABBI, EXCEPT FOR JESUS; WHO QUITE OFTEN DID THE UNEXPECTED. THE STORY IS CONDENSED, BECAUSE SOME TIME MUST HAVE PASSED FOR JESUS TO BEGIN TEACHING WHILE MARTHA BUSTLED ABOUT IN THE KITCHEN. WHILE MARY SITS QUIETLY LISTENING TO JESUS, MARTHA IS HAVING WHAT LOOKS LIKE A PANIC ATTACK, BROUGHT ON BY THE OVERWHELMING EXPECTATIONS OF WHAT SHE IS FACING AS THE HOST WHO IS WELCOMING JESUS AND HIS PEOPLE. THE WORD IN THE GREEK IS PERISPAOMAI, WHICH MEANS BEING PULLED IN MANY DIRECTIONS, AND FROM WHICH WE GET THE WORD “SPASM.” ONE COULD SAY THAT MARTHA WAS “SPAZZING OUT.” SHE IS A WRECK BECAUSE SHE IS TRYING TO RESPOND WELL TO WHAT SHE THINKS JESUS AND HIS DISCIPLES EXPECT OF HER.

WHEN SHE CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE, MARTHA COMES OUT AND STANDS OVER JESUS; SHE HAS LOST CONTROL OF HERSELF AND, IN THE GREEK TEXT, SHE STANDS IN A DOMINENT POSITION OVER JESUS. I CAN IMAGINE HER HANDS ON HER HIPS AS SHE SAYS, “LORD, DON’T YOU CARE THAT MY SISTER HAS LEFT ME TO DO ALL THE WORK BY MYSELF?” SHE ADDRESSES JESUS AS “LORD,” THEN GIVES HIM A COMMAND. “TELL HER THEN TO HELP ME.” JESUS’ RESPONSE TO MARTHA IS NOT AT ALL CONDESCENDING, HIS “MARTHA, MARTHA,” IS AN ENDEARING AND LOVING ADDRESS TO HER. HE ACKNOWLEDGES HER STRESS AND WORRY, NONE OF WHICH IS NECESSARY. HE IS HARDLY WORRIED ABOUT A LATE DINNER, OR EVEN WHAT IS SET BEFORE HIM. ONLY ONE THING IS NEEDFUL, TO HEAR THE WORD OF GOD WHICH JESUS BRINGS, AND MARY HAS CHOSEN RIGHTLY. HIS RESPONCE TO MARTHA DOES NOT CHASTIZE HER FOR BEING IRRATIONAL OR WRONGHEADED, BUT HE SIMPLY SAYS THAT HE WILL NOT STOP MARY FROM HER SITTING AND LISTENING TO HIM AND BECOMEING DISTRACTED LIKE MARTHA. SHE IS ENTITLED TO BE THERE AT HIS FEET, AND NOT OBLIGATED TO LEAVE BECAUSE OF HER GENDER OR THE OVERWHELMING WORK TO BE DONE; THE WORK CAN WAIT, THE WORD OF GOD CANNOT.

BY NO MEANS DOES JESUS IMPLY THAT SERVICE TO OTHERS IS UNIMPORTANT. THIS STORY FOLLOWS IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE PARABLE OF THE GOOD SAMARITAN, IN WHICH SERVICE TO OTHERS AT THE COST TO ONES SELF IS THE IDEAL OF LOVING ONE’S NEIGHBOR. BEING BUSY, OR SERVING OTHERS, OR GETTING A LOT OF THINGS DONE, OR EVEN RUSHING FROM THIS TO THAT IS NOT THE PROBLEM. IT IS WHEN THE DISTRACTION OF THE MANY THINGS TAKES AWAY OUR ABILITY TO GRASP THE GOOD, THE BETTER PART. IT IS WHEN THE PULL ON US IN MANY DIRECTIONS PREVENTS US FROM EVEN HEARING THE WORD OF GOD WHICH IS THE ONE THING THAT IS NEEDFUL, AND WHICH KEEPS US CENTERED IN THE LIFE OF THE KINGDOM DESPITE ALL THE STUFF GOING ON AROUND US. WHEN WE LET ALL THAT STUFF GET TO US, WE ARE IN DANGER OF LOSING OUR PROPER FOCUS, AND FOCUS INSTEAD ON OUR SELVES AND OUR SELFISH NEEDS.

THESE PAST FEW WEEKS HAVE BEEN A TERRIBLE TIME, WITH SO MANY THINGS PULLING AT US FROM ALL SIDES. ONE WONDERS WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT THE DIVISIONS IN OUR POLITICS, THE SUDDEN VIOLENCE THAT SEEMS A DAILY PART OF OUR LIVES, THE TERROR ATTACKS HERE AND ABROAD, THE TENSION BETWEEN BLACKS AND WHITES, WHAT TO DO ABOUT ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION, AND THE HOST OF OTHER ISSUES THAT PULL US THIS WAY AND THAT. ALL OF THAT IS IMPORTANT, AND THERE IS MUCH TO DO FOR A DISCIPLE OF THE LORD JESUS, BUT HOW WE DO WHATEVER IT IS THAT WE NEED TO DO IS EVEN MORE IMPORTANT. AS DISCIPLES OF THE LORD JESUS, WHATEVER WE DO IN OUR WORK OF RECONCILING PEOPLE TO EACH OTHER, AND ALL PEOPLE TO GOD THROUGH OUR LORD, WE MUST START FROM THE POSITION OF HAVING CHOSEN THE BETTER PART; BY FIGURATIVELY SITTING AT THE FEET OF JESUS AND LISTENING TO HIS WORDS. WITHOUT DOING THIS, NO MATTER WHAT WE DO WILL CARRY SO MUCH OF OUR OWN EGOS, THAT IT WILL BE NO MORE EFFECTIVE THAN RATTLEING PANS IN THE KITCHEN, AND EVEN SERVING OUR NEIGHBOR WILL BECOME A BURDEN.

IF, HOWEVER, WE START ALWAYS AT THE FEET OF JESUS, WHAT WE DO FOR HIM AND IN HIS NAME WILL BE DONE IN THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, AND WE WILL NOT BE DISTRACTED FROM OUR MISSION OR FROM THE WORD OF GOD WHICH LEADS US. AT THE FEET OF JESUS IS THE STARTING PLACE FOR ANY DISCIPLE OF THE LORD, FOR, AS PAUL WROTE, “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.” IF WE START THERE, EVEN OUR DIFFERENCES IN HOW WE ARE TO DO OUR MISSION OF RECONCILIATION CAN BE MADE INTO A UNITED EFFORT THROUGH THE SPIRIT OF GOD. ONLY IN GOD, THROUGH CHRIST JESUS, IS IT POSSIBLE TO LIVE AND WORK FOR THE KINGDOM OF GOD IN THIS MOST DISTRACTING AND CONFUSING WORLD.
AMEN

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