Steamed - Reflections 7-12-16

 Texts for Sunday July 17, 2016

 Genesis 18:1-10a
 Psalm 15
 Colossians 1:15-28
 Luke 10:38-42

Hospitality was a big deal in the Ancient Near East. You needed to offer all your guests, expected and unexpected, an opportunity to rest, water to wash their feet, and then food and drink.

In Genesis 18:1-10a, Abraham demonstrates how it is done (go ahead, read it – it is great). Abraham suddenly sees some strangers coming. He runs over to meet them and then invites them to rest and wash then feet, then he offers them a "bite to eat" and walks calmly back to his tent. At that point, you have to smile at the frantic preparations “behind the scenes”. Cakes! Calf! Curds! Then, you can imagine him blowing out a deep breath just before he casually steps out of the tent to serve the meal. These guests were welcomed graciously and properly. The focus was on their comfort and not on the host.

We move ahead in the story of God’s people to Jesus stopping at the home of Martha and Mary in the Gospel of Luke; hospitality is still a big deal at this time. So Martha welcomes Jesus, gets him sat down; it doesn’t say so, but I’ll bet you she had water for his feet. She then, like Abraham, rushes away to prepare “a bite” for this traveling preacher. But then, she realizes someone is missing from the preparations. Mary, instead of helping with the task of hospitality, sits and listens to Jesus… SITS and listens to Jesus. I can imagine Martha banging pots and making noise, certain that her sister will rise to the occasion and help, for the love of Pete. Or maybe Jesus will hear her clunking around and suggest to Mary that she go help.

In my over 30 years of working in congregations, I have seen the reaction of the “regulars” who cook, serve, and wash dishes in church kitchens when they hear this story. They hear Jesus’ rebuke of Martha to be a rebuke of the gifts of service they offer to the community. And, you know, a rebuke from Jesus has a real punch to it.

(If you push them, they might admit that they have also been like Martha and complained “a little” about the people who just sit around while they do ALL the work. If they could, they would pull A Little Red Hen and say “No work? No food.”)

I don’t think the point of the story is to create a big kerfuffle in our church basements and fellowship halls. The community of faith would not be the same if these ministers of hospitality weren’t there. So I offer a couple of thoughts.

First, I just have to say from a communications viewpoint that Martha should not have triangulated Jesus that way. If she wanted Mary to work, she could have addressed Mary directly “Mary, could you come help me get ready? Then both of us can listen to Jesus over supper”. OK, that’s not the point either.

I think it is important to pay attention to what Jesus actually says to Martha: you are worried and distracted by many things. She is unable to practice hospitality because she is focused on something other than being hospitable. Gracious? Self-effacing? The focus on Jesus’ comfort? I don’t think so. It is time for one of those deep breaths.

This is Luke’s story – not in Mark or Matthew…. Just Luke, who shows us that table fellowship is important to Jesus’ ministry; who describes Jesus’ mother as a young woman who sees the transformation of the world through her coming baby; who worries about the outcast, the poor, the hungry; and, who in his Gospel, balances every story about a man with a story about a woman.  He is showing that Mary is as much a disciple as all those men that Jesus gathered around him.  She is focused on, and losing herself in, Jesus’ word. 

And a thought that I totally got from the commentaries I read, I take no credit for the insight: Notice where in Luke’s Gospel we are. In Luke 9, Samaritans refused to offer the ancient near-eastern-big-deal of hospitality because Jesus was heading to Jerusalem. And Jesus teaches his disciples what to do if they do not receive a hospitable welcome as they go out two by two. Then in Luke 10, right before this story, we have the story of the lawyer who asked and then answered “what is needed” as love God with your whole self and love your neighbor as yourself. The story of the Samaritan who stopped to help illustrates the neighbor part of that. This story which follows shows how one loves God with your whole self. How cool is that? This story completes the package. Go and do likewise.

Finally, the Samaritan was the only one who really saw the injured man, really saw him as human being in need. Mary was the only one in the house who really heard Jesus. We need to see others and listen to God.

I think seeing and hearing speaks to the back and forth these days about which lives matter. We need to see and hear.

That’s what I have. What do you hear or see in the story?

You will find more reflections on these texts in the G.I.F.T. post for 7-17-16.

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Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

123 E Market Street
Iowa City, IA 52245