Pentecost 6

As 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.

Of course, it’s such a stereotype, offending feminist sensitivities…We know somebody needs to get those things done, right?

So 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!

The 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.

Let’s 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.

For 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.

That’s 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 or contemplative…

– 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.

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