Rev. Dr. Martha Jacobs
Taking the Time to Listen
Psalm 27, Luke 10: 38-42
Sunday, July 17, 2016
Last week we heard about the Good Samaritan and how God used an enemy of the Jews to make the point that our neighbor is anyone who is in need, with no limits whatsoever. In our reading for today, God uses a woman, a lower class person in her society, to teach us that we need to take time to listen and to realize that we can become more than how others may see us.
In the past, I have read this story as Jesus chastising Martha for her busyness. I have read it as Jesus admonishing me to stop doing and instead to take the time to listen for God. Some recent scholars believe that this story isn’t about favoring devotion over hospitality or being over doing. Instead, they think it might be about seeing what is possible, which resonated with me since we too are seeking to see not just what is, but what possibilities there are here at FCC.
Martha’s work was what was expected of her – making sure that everyone has what they need. She gets busy doing that and expects her sister Mary to help, as she always has in the past. Hospitality is valued throughout Luke’s Gospel, so Martha’s work was not looked down upon at all by Luke, so it makes sense that Jesus was not admonishing Martha for her work. In fact, at this point in the Gospel, Jesus had selected the 72 whom he had sent out and they had just returned, telling about their ability to cast out demons and show people another way to live and care for each other. So, Martha is not just preparing for Jesus but for all of them. Not an easy task as we all know. So, Martha expected Mary to help her, which was a reasonable expectation on her part.
What was not expected was that Mary would take the position of a disciple, sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to him as he taught the 70 or so disciples. Since it appeared that all of Jesus’ disciples were men, Mary sitting at his feet has particular significance. You see, Jesus, like other rabbis, was expected to teach only men. Women were not instructed, except according to the customs and laws in keeping house and providing hospitality, and Martha was fulfilling that role. Mary, it appears, believes that she is entitled to learn – to sit at the Master’s feet and learn.
So, as David Lose, president of Luther Seminary, suggests, “Perhaps Jesus’ seeming admonition to Martha about “the better part” is not about the roles each plays because both have tremendous value in the gospels, but rather, that Mary has seen the possibility of doing something different, of being someone different – a disciple of Jesus – in a way few would have expected or allowed a woman to consider. Dr. Lose suggests that “perhaps it’s Mary’s assumption that she is worthy to sit at Jesus’ feet that he commends. She imagines and lives into a possibility that stretches the cultural norm because she is in the presence of the one through whom God promises that all things are possible,” and Jesus welcomes her to sit and learn.
Dr. Lose further suggests that this story is about stretching our imagination to what we see as viable options for our lives. He asks: What do we see? Whom do we see as worthy? Do we see ourselves as worthy? How do we see others? And, the most troubling question he posed: are there times that we don’t see others at all?
This last question is the most troubling because of what is happening in our society today. Dr. Lose sees the Black Lives Matter movement in a different way – suggesting that it is a demand to be seen; to be treated with equality. He believes that it is not that the activists of this movement don’t think that all lives matter, it’s that they are critiquing a culture that acts as if some lives matter less than others.
Dr. Lose challenged those preachers who were preaching on this reading today to remember that the massacre in Orlando, the resistance to admitting refugees to our country, the fear-mongering that has plagued this election, all of these are a result, in part, from our penchant to hold so steadfastly to our own cultural norms and expectations.
Further, he suggested that we refuse to see, or cannot see others as God does and therefore, cannot see the new possibilities God is still unfolding before us. Dr. Lose submits that even the despicable violence unleashed in anger and profound mental illness in Dallas is part and parcel of a world and culture that constantly draws lines between who’s in and who’s out, who counts and who doesn’t, who is worthy of respect and who is not. He points out that it’s clear from not only Luke’s Gospel but the whole New Testament that whenever you draw a line between who’s in and who’s out, you will find Jesus with those who are out.
I wonder, are there ways that you draw lines between who’s in and who’s out? Our Open and Affirming Statement, which many of you participated in creating, states that at FCC we welcome people of every race and mixture of races, people of every ethnic background and nationality, people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or straight, people in any economic situation and people, regardless of physical or mental prowess or limitation. Is that also true for you outside of FCC? Do you treat people the same within these walls as beyond them? How might you look at them differently?
Lastly, I want to invite you to consider being like Mary. Think about ways that you might see yourself differently. Think about ways that you might see FCC differently. God is inviting us to listen and to see more in ourselves than we’ve seen previously and, in turn, to see others – all others – as God’s beloved children.