I was preparing this sermon, I was reminded of a joke my mother used
to tell – She was an English teacher – the joke goes like that:
“What is the feminine form of Sitting on the couch?”
and the answer is: “Standing in the kitchen”
The Gospel we have today, the short story of Martha and Mary, has given rise to a lot of comments because of the way Jesus seemingly dismisses the value of the humble domestic work, telling Martha it’s more important to sit with the boys, listen to the Master rather than to worry about her pots and pans.
course, it’s such a stereotype, offending feminist sensitivities…We
know somebody needs to get those things done, right?
today our task is to wonder if we can pass beyond the stereotype and
hear afresh what Jesus is really saying. My guess is that actually
you can’t really understand this Gospel if you’ve never had a big
sister bossing you around – but we’ll come to that later!
first thing we need to notice is that when Jesus talks, his words
teach – there is information, meaning in what he says – but
also – as the word of God – Jesus’s words do something,
they have a certain effect on reality, like when he says to people:
You’re healed, you’re forgiven…Something we can
experience at our level when we promise or apologize.
We say words not only to inform but to do something: a vow, an
excuse…(Performative)…And in this Gospel, Jesus is not
only teaching something, but doing something.
start with what Jesus is saying / words themselves /
the teaching: “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.”
So we often understand this saying as Jesus downplaying earthly
realities for the sake of heavenly ones. Downplaying those humble
tasks nobody notices that need to be done and are often taken care of
by women. This interpretation does not make sense
though, b/c of the rest of the Gospel. Jesus always notices the
humble tasks: the woman putting yeast in her bread, the widow giving
her last coin…Jesus himself did humble tasks, like serving food,
washing the feet of his disciples. The examples are legion, actually
half of the characters Jesus meets in Luke’s Gospel are women –
often shown as examples: witnesses of the Resurrection, founders of
the early church in the book of Acts (written by Luke). In some
stories of the Gospel, sometimes Jesus even changes his mind after
having talked with women! Like with the Canaanite woman who tells
Jesus even the little dogs get the crumbs, we see that at Cana when
his mother asks him for a miracle!
So in this wider context, we can hear that Jesus’s words aren’t
negative but positive, there are words of empowerment b/c of the way
he believes in women. If we are offended by what Jesus responds to
Martha, imagine what if would be if he had said: “Mary, your sister
is right, return to the kitchen (where you belong)”…Mary has
her place at Jesus’s feet – listening to Jesus’s teachings with
the men in the house, which was very unusual at the time.
Jesus, women are not second class disciples. This scene may remind us
of Jesus at 12 sitting in the Temple with the doctors of the law.
Jesus invites us to think outside the box about the roles society has
in store for us based on our age, our origin, our gender…Not only
for women, for men also! I read recently a book written by a man who
talks about this culture of violence most men grow up in, how they
are taught that they “can’t be a real man if they’re not tough”
and the author says it has been a very liberating experience for him
to realize how Jesus dared to express his feminine side, being open
about his emotions, like when he cries in public, talks about his
fear of dying…
Indeed, Jesus teaches today about human limitations, “God given
roles” in life that are actually not “God given” but
cultural!…More than what society teaches us to be/do, we are first
called to be disciples, doing “the one thing” God gives us to do.
God has a very different work ethics than we do. In our society, the
more we work, the better. We pride ourselves on being busy. Yet, work
in the Bible isn’t always seen in a positive way. Amos, 8th c BC:
God does not approve prosperity that enslave people or abuse them.
People are meant to serve God first, then they can work to make a
living. Most of us, we are only gifted at doing a few things –
maybe it’s because God does not want us to do too much but to do
well what we have to do, to have our hearts in it so by our work we
may be drawn closer to loving God and our neighbor. Doing better
instead of doing more.
Sometimes we can’t avoid being very busy of course but always doing
more isn’t a holy way of living in the sense that it does not make
us closer to God. Jesus notices the way Martha is worried and
distracted, and of course it is something that should speak very
strongly to us today in a world where we worry a lot and are more
distracted than ever. But it’s not new! Worries and distractions
are part of who we are. A movement of philosophers beginning of the
20th century: being human is about being worried b/c we
are finite. We look for completion and accomplishment…But what
those philosophers say is that we can spend our lives running from
one thing to another and probably wasting our time and energy, or we
can go deeper and try to understand what we really long for: “the
one thing” – this could be our quest for God / meaning. We cannot
get rid of anxieties but maybe, we can try to look at our anxiety in
the face: What is it I am really worried about / what is it I
am really looking for? I wish I had an answer to this
question..I don’t…Maybe it’s different for everyone of us, but
one thing is sure: Jesus tells us we’ll come closer to find our
answer if we accept to sit and listen, than if we just keep on doing
business as usual frantically.
So yes, for Jesus there is more to life than pots and pans…it does
not mean you can’t find God in pots and pans! Brother Lawrence
(17c) used to say: God is in the kitchen. He found God while cooking
as well as when he went to worship because he made himself fully
available. Sitting and listening: It’s not so much about
what we do than about the way we offer ourselves, we made ourselves
present to God whatever we’re doing.
for the teaching…Now, what is it that Jesus is doing by saying what
he says to Martha?
Well, maybe we are right to be a bit offended by his words b/c they
are probably a little harsh. My guess is that Jesus is putting Martha
in her place / sort of telling her to mind her own business…but
he does so to take Mary’s defense, to side
with her. He is not criticizing the fact that Martha is doing
the cooking – Jesus is upset by the way Martha is treating
Mary. The reason I said you can’t understand this Gospel
if you’ve never had a big sister to boss you around! Yet, if Martha
would have really wanted her sister to help, don’t you think she
would have asked her directly, discretely? But now, if you can
imagine the scene, she interrupts Jesus as he is teaching,
in front of all the guests, to point out the fact that her sister is
being useless and lazy, when she, Martha, takes care of
everything. Martha is also doing something when she speaks
this way: She is humiliating Mary in front of all the guests
and of this Jesus Mary loves so much (She is also the one who poured
the perfume at his feet)…We don’t know how cruel it is, but it is
certainly mean…and yet, does not this scene feel terribly real? How
often do we do that? Putting people down to make us look better? And
also: being controlling, knowing what people need to do, or not?
How often do we spend time criticizing the way people do their work /
don’t do their work correctly? Our spouses, co-workers, the
employee at Walmart…
And we don’t only criticize people in front of others people, we
criticize them also in front of God, like Martha criticizes Mary in
front of Jesus! We had to have a good laugh last week during adult
education, talking about prayer, when we realized how often the
way we pray for others turn out in the end to pray God that God may
change their behaviors… “Jesus, tell my sister to help me!”.
Actually we should ask God to be the ones to change and to see people
in a different light, with their very own gifts. We often rejoice in
our diversity, and we are right to do so, but diversity is not
only about race, age or gender. It’s about doing things
differently. Being introvert or extrovert, fast or slow, active
Last thing Jesus is doing is that he’s keeping Mary with him
/ to himself – She won’t go back in the kitchen. Jesus likes Mary
as she is – and it’s not the first time he takes her defense.
Judas and the disciples criticize her harshly when she pours the
perfume on his feet. It seems that Mary forgets everything when Jesus
is here: how she is expected to behave, what she is supposed to
do…Jesus acknowledges the great love Mary has for him and no
doubt he finds comfort in it as he heads to Jerusalem and to his
death. Hospitality is more than food, it’s about
enjoying each other’s presence. We are even more sensitive to
that when we come closer to the end of our lives. Most of the people
who are about to die will tell you: All the little worries,
distractions, our little wars with one another… they really don’t
matter at all.
To conclude: The Gospel we have today follows the one we heard last
week, Good Samaritan, where Jesus reminds us of the great
commandments: Loving God and Loving neighbor. Last week we heard how
the love for neighbor was about serving them / doing extraordinary
things for them as did the Samaritan, but today Jesus reminds us that
sometimes love can be as simple as this: Enjoy. Enjoy God for
the mere pleasure to be in God’s presence, enjoy who your neighbor
are, just because they are who they are. Amen.