Introduction and Call to Worship
We lay aside our work and worries that can distract us from being close to Jesus, as we long to draw closer to Him with quiet minds and open hearts listening to His Word and receiving him in the joy of his Holy Sacrament, his presence with us.
First Reading Genesis 18:1-10a
Abraham offers hospitality to three strangers. They do not disclose their angelic identity but declare that Abraham’s wife Sarah will have a son – a seeming impossibility for this ageing, barren couple.
Second Reading Colossians 1:15-28
Paul, the Gospel’s servant, proclaims Christ’s supremacy over the cosmos as creator, ruler and redeemer. He urges Christians to respond to God’s glorious, revealed purposes in Christ by faithfully pursuing holiness and Christian maturity.
Gospel Luke 10:38-end
When Martha welcomes Jesus into her home she becomes distracted by household duties, whereas her sister Mary sits at Jesus’ feet in the position and attitude of a disciple.
“Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:42)
With changes at Thorpe Vicarage, and a new person with her own set routine to follow, I have learnt all about “In The Night Garden,” a BBC children’s programme aimed at toddlers and their bedtime. Narrated by the venerable Derek Jacobi, the main characters include Iggle Piggle and Upsy Daisy and, our little one’s favourite, Makka Pakka. He is obsessed with collecting stones and washing everything with his bar of soap and sponge. Makka Pakka is house-proud, and like Martha in today’s Gospel reading, seems a somewhat over busy type of character. Of course, each episode of In The Night Garden has its own story, involving the characters learning something new. Then, at the end, they all become quiet and the characters must rest – and go to sleep, inducing OCD Makka Pakka. Each episode is a glimpse into their odd and yet rather enchanting lives and, if we could peer through the window of Martha’s Bethany home as Jesus visited his friends, we would perhaps recognise Martha as the over-busy type, working hard at her chores while Mary may seem a touch lazy, leaving her sister to do all the work!
That summary is a somewhat over-simplification of the truth and not the picture Luke paints in his Gospel account. Martha, for all her busyness and activity, has welcomed Jesus into her home and she desires to be hospitable, just as any of us would want to be. Her Lord was under her roof, how exciting! And there is so much to do. What is more natural than trying to be a great host and make a good impression? Indeed, guests can be quite demanding, as can toddlers, especially if we don’t get the daily routine quite right – she soon tells us! But Mary is not opting out, she has realised there is more going on here. She chooses to sit at her teacher’s feet, which is surely an expression of her desire to be a disciple, and her commitment to listen and learn from her master.
I should point out that in 1st century Palestine, such sitting was the preserve of men, not the place of women. Far from being lazy, Mary was being rather daring by taking up this posture; acting as one of the male disciples would, while Martha fulfilled the traditional role of a woman. And what does Jesus make of this? A woman taking the role of a man. It is amazing really, for Jesus commends Mary in a way that underlines his understanding of all people being equal before God – the inauguration of a new order that would transcend cultural practice, and bring men and women together rather than consign them to separate spaces in house and temple, different roles and responsibilities in daily life. Indeed, it has taken us 2000 years to work this out and we still have some way to go until we fully redress such imbalances of understanding, as I know all too well - as we seek to recognise that each individual is to be valued for who they are, their gifts and abilities, not simply their gender.
You know, it is not easy to come to terms with the dissolving of old boundaries. Martha clearly thought she was in the right place and acting appropriately. We sense her frustration and hurt at feeling abandoned in her tasks which is understandable. She was doing what women always did and nobody seemed to recognise her gifts. Mary is not helping and Jesus appears unaware of her struggles. Sometimes, we can feel Martha’s anger as she complains to her guest. Note, Jesus does not rebuke Martha but rather he speaks tenderly to her. In her distraction she is the author of her own distress. What she most needs is to let go of her earnest multi-tasking, her eagerness to accept her role and focus her attentiveness on Jesus alone; to listen to his words and hear his wisdom; to obey his call rather than be driven by her agenda or her desire to fulfil an apparent set role. Jesus, after all, had not specifically requested anything of Martha, he was simply present with her, as He is with us today in the Eucharist when we break bread and share the cup of our salvation.
Martha’s need for Jesus’ gentle correction arose from her assumptions rather than her activity. She assumed she knew what needed to be done and that she had to remain in her traditional woman’s role to do it. Yet Jesus had not required this of her for Jesus makes it clear that there was a choice to be made. Mary’s decision was to come close to Christ and adopt the position of a disciple and listen to her Lord and his teaching; Martha chose to keep working to maintain the system. My friends in faith, do we dare to stop, to come close to Jesus, to break with our own traditions and comfort zones and busyness to become vulnerable and teachable as we make spending time in Jesus’ presence our priority?
Life “In The Night Garden” is harmonious, if not a little odd! Everyone has their role to play and tasks to perform. Makka Pakka has his stones to clean – and he (or at least I think he is a He?!) cleans other things too given half the chance, busy at his work but he still needs to learn – to stop – and to rest. Mary and Martha face a similar dilemma, with Mary recognising where she needs to be – listening to Jesus. As we each reflect upon our own call by Christ to service, may we be willing to listen to Him, the author of all things. He calls us to new things and this means change and challenge to our old way of thinking – an end to the way we have hitherto boxed up roles for men and women is just one example here and there are many more. Like Martha and Mary, our primary responsibility is our relationship with Jesus. It is not enough to welcome him into our lives; we need to take time to come to know him, to learn where he would lead us, and our Church for the future. Amen.
1. Learning to take stock and instruction is essential for any task.
2. Martha’s generous hospitality forms a backdrop to this Gospel scene. Martha has welcomed Jesus in but then serves him on her own terms.
3. Mary chooses to place herself close to Jesus in the position of a disciple.
4. Can we put our godly activity on hold in order to listen to the Son of God himself? For Jesus is with us in Word and Sacrament, teaching us and leading the Church forward for the future.