Not for Women Only Luke 10:38-42

I got  into a fight with some church ladies last week. It wasn’t over whether the Creation took seven days or seven eons; it wasn’t over whether or not Mary was  a virgin after Jesus was born; it wasn’t over who wrote the book of Hebrews.   It wasn’t over transubstantiation and consubstantiation.  It wasn’t over gay marriage or apostolic succession.

It was over who makes the calls to line up desserts and helpers for funeral luncheons.  The last five funeral lunches at this congregation, where my membership is still officially held, have not been as predictable as in the past fifty years.  I won’t bother you with the details, but in the process of providing the funeral lunch, especially the desserts, there have been some arguments and some hurt feelings.  Last I heard, the issue goes to committee.

Have you seen any of the stage plays based on Church Basement Ladies? Church Basement Ladies, that is, the ladies who orchestrate the hospitality, and clean up after all that hospitality, are absolutely essential to the church. In fact, when I think about typical church populations, it’s no wonder that the majority are female.  It’s not because the men die younger or skip church.  It’s that they don’t have their reputations vested in the church.

A woman’s reputation, at least as I was growing up, depended on how well she baked, cooked and cleaned for church dinners.  Nobody ever, EVER, purchased a pie from the frozen food section and baked it at home.   And, the standard for dessert validation was pie–not cake, not even a pineapple upside-down cake.  You didn’t make it into the Church Ladies Hall of Fame if you couldn’t bake a pie with a flaky crust that could be cut and plated without running all over the plate.  I imagine the cornstarch industry has taken quite a hit since those days.

So, Martha had a reputation to maintain.  She was the head of hospitality in her household.

We are tempted to use this text to define the way women serve the church.   But if Martha is being scolded by Jesus, whom does He expect to fix the funeral lunch? Who’s going to make sure the bathrooms are clean and the altar cloth is the right color?  Who is going to order paper towels for the janitor’s closet?

I’m sure Jesus did not disdain Martha’s good food.  He may have taken her clean house and fresh water for granted, but He certainly, at some level, must have appreciated her effort.  On the other hand, He appreciated Mary’s thirst for knowledge.  While Martha may have felt that Mary was ignoring her, in fact, Mary, too was in the right place.

When I was a newly married, much younger church woman under the tutelage of the venerable Ladies of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, one of my mentors told me that women shouldn’t be on church council because they fight with each other.

Where did she get that idea that only women fight with each other?

This passage about two of Jesus’ favorite people  is often used to pit women against each other, as if there is a choice that needs to be made.2  What if this passage is about disciples–men and women? We all need to sit and hear the word of God.3

When we compare and contrast Martha and Mary, we are committing the sin of comparison. If you think this is not one of the ten commandments, check out the 8th, 9th and 10th commandments.  On your own time.  Competition leads to division, not acceptance.4  At the end of the competition, there is always a winner—and, sadly, a loser.  What will the loser do at the next occasion of service if she–or he–is now labeled a loser?  The person doesn’t have to wear a white ribbon (the worst you could do at the county fair when I was in 4-H).  Idle chatter from idle witnesses will secure the status.
Those were the dynamics at play in my fight with the church ladies.
Did Jesus scold Martha because she was not sitting at his feet?  Or was there another reason for his response?
“Martha was encumbered – The Greek word properly signifies to be drawn different ways at the same time, and admirably expresses the situation of a mind, surrounded (as Martha’s then was) with so many objects of care, that it hardly knows which to attend to first.”5

To be drawn in different ways at the same time–does that sound familiar?  It reminds me of the first ten times I hosted the family holiday meal.  I worked so hard on so many details that by the time everyone arrived, I was as grouchy as a broody hen.

The lesson, for me, is that we need to be both Martha and Mary. When and how much takes careful, intentional discernment.

“If we censure Martha too harshly, she may abandon serving altogether, and if we commend Mary too profusely, she may sit there forever.  There is a time to go and do; there is a time to listen and reflect.  Knowing which and when is a matter of spiritual discernment.” 6

Congregations, too, can get caught up in the polarities of doing versus hearing.

“Activism without contemplation ends in aimless “doing” that usually aggravates existing difficulties…On the other hand, only the unthinking could fail to recognize the myriad ways in which thought—including very serious biblical, theological, and other scholarship—regularly serves the duplicitous purposes of those who, their rhetoric notwithstanding, simply do not wish to ‘get involved.’” 7

“A church that has been led to be “worried and distracted by many things” (v. 41) inevitably will be a community that dwells in the shallows of frantic potlucks, anxious stewardship campaigns, and events designed simply to perpetuate the institution. Decisions will be made in meetings without a hint of God’s reign. Food and drink will appear at table without Christ being recognized in the breaking of bread. Social issues may be addressed, but the gospel is missed in acts that partake of politics as usual.”8

I know of some churches where the people most active on committees are never seen at worship.  Something is missing in their service, something key to who they are as Children of God. Jesus does not call us to govern or to keep the doors open.  God calls us to serve, and one of the easiest and most effective ways is to offer hospitality.  But the hospitality is not genuine if it is not supported by the foundation of love of scripture and a right relationship with God.

If you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, you spend time sweeping the floor and you spend time studying scripture.  If you are a disciple of Christ, you buy your friend a cup of coffee and you invite the lonely, the smelly, the annoying neighbor to worship with you–in the same pew, every Sunday. You can have it both ways; you must have it both ways.

Jesus asks an awful lot of us, doesn’t He? We have to be both Martha and Mary. When we are distracted to the point of frustration, we can collapse into a quiet heap and talk with him. Refreshed and inspired, we can resume our roles as his hands and feet.

As we move forward as a congregation, we need to remember that the Kingdom needs both Martha and Mary.  Let us use this scripture, this story of two of Jesus’ favorite disciples, as a model for our own community.  Amen.

38 The Lord and his disciples were traveling along and came to a village. When they got there, a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat down in front of the Lord and was listening to what he said. 40 Martha was worried about all that had to be done. Finally, she went to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it bother you that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to come and help me!”
41 The Lord answered, “Martha, Martha! You are worried and upset about so many things, 42 but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen what is best, and it will not be taken away from her.”1

1 Contemporary English Version (CEV)2 Rachel Held Evans3  Viola Larsen4 Dr. Karolyn Lewis, Luther Seminary5 From Wesley’s Notes. John Wesley (1703-1791)6 (Craddock, Interpretation Series)7 Douglas John Hall, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season After Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16) 8 – Cynthia A Jarvis, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feast8

Be Careful What you Ask for

On July 7, one of my friends on Facebook posted this
“Feeling very sad this morning. I just keep looking at my son and I know there are conversations I need to have with him that I shouldn’t have to. Fears that I shouldn’t have to have. And I really don’t need to be reminded that not all cops are bad. I’m very well aware of that. But it doesn’t justify the ones that are. Or the ones that screw up to the point of taking a life unnecessarily.”
Another friend messaged me on July 8:
“I’m tired of black this, black that. Entitlement blah blah blah. When do ALL lives matter, Dianne? And since when does going on a manhunt for cops constitute a solution?”
Yet another friend posted on July 8:
“I am at such a loss for words…this can’t keep happening. I can’t be constantly scared for the life of my husband and he can’t be constantly grouped in to this “all cops are bad” category. Violence is not the answer to violence, this eye for an eye does not make your cause look like a noble one. Stay safe officers.”
On Saturday, July 9, one of my friends whom I consider insightful and objective had this to say:
“Something occurred to me the other day about the discussion around Black Lives Matter. Companies/schools/government have spent enormous resources educating people to treat everyone equally in the workplace, home or society in general. Maybe this is why people have a problem accepting movements like BLM. On one hand we try and be inclusive and equal and the other hand we focus on a certain group which emphasizes the division. I wish the walks around the country last night had been in support of both those that are being killed because of the color of their skin and those that wear blue to protect and serve. Both groups have been tragically affected by this week of murders. We can support one without being against the other.”
One more quote:
“Let us renounce that bigotry and party zeal which would contract our hearts into an insensibility for all the human race, but a small number whose sentiments and practices are so much our own, that our love to them is but self love reflected. With an honest openness of mind let us always remember that kindred between man and man, and cultivate that happy instinct whereby, in the original constitution of our nature, God has strongly bound us to each other.”2
Those words were not written on Facebook, not even in the twenty-first century, nor the twentieth, nor the nineteenth. They were written in the eighteenth century, before the American Revolution.  They were written in 1760,3 1660 years after Jesus taught us differently. And they still apply 250 years later, after our nation’s revolutionary war and civil war and civil rights movement. They were written by John Wesley, the great Methodist reformer and hymn writer.
It’s 2016.  What has changed? The questions are still there:
How do I protect my son, who, like me, has brown skin?
What is the problem?
Will my husband be safe as he wears his blue uniform?
Doesn’t saying “black lives matter” divide rather than heal?
Can’t we renounce bigotry and party zeal?
The young man asked Jesus a question.
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” lead to a harder question: “Who is my neighbor?”
Five questions:
“Teacher,” he [the expert] asked, “what must I do to have eternal life?”
26 Jesus answered, “What is written in the Scriptures?
How do you understand them?”
Who are my neighbors?”
36 Then Jesus asked, “Which one of these three people was a real neighbor to the man who was beaten up by robbers?”
Let’s examine these five questions.
“Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to have eternal life?”
Why does the lawyer ask this question, this specific question?  He is well-read, well-taught.  He has probably been tested on this very question during his studies. Is he testing Jesus? Is he hungry for a good theological discussion? Is he showing off? Or is he hoping for an answer that gives him more confidence or that affirms that he is living correctly, according to the Commandments? Have you ever asked such a question?
Maybe you asked it this way: “How do I know if I am saved?”  “How do I know if I will go to heaven?”  “Am I in danger of going to hell?” “Is my faith strong enough?”  “Have I been Christian enough in my life?” That’s what the young man is asking.
26 Jesus answered, “What is written in the Scriptures?
How do you understand them?”
What is written?–what words do you see on the page?–is one question.  The second question is about comprehension–what do those words say to you?  Remember grade school, when you had to read something.  Sure, you understood it when you read it, but when you had to explain it to the teacher, that was another stick of chalk.
“What do you read there?” is the most important aid you have to Bible reading.  Assuming that we all use the Bible as a guideline for many of our actions, it is extremely important that we examine and question and interpret our reading.
Who are my neighbors?”
The young man has answered his own questions with words straight from scripture: “The Scriptures say, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.’ They also say, ‘Love your neighbors as much as you love yourself.’
Everybody knew that. But the young man is up for discussion, if not argument. Maybe he wants to know who is NOT his neighbor.  Maybe he wants to know whom he can ignore, whom he can denigrate, whom he can treat with condescension, about which neighbors he can gossip, which neighbors he can bad-mouth.
In our own culture,  we would ask: Which people are not a part of my world? Which people don’t do things the way I would?   Which people don’t deserve my attention?  Why should I love people who break the law?  Why should I love people who carry guns?  Why should I love people who refuse to work? None of them deserve my love, let alone my attention, unless I can show them how wrong they are.
36 Then Jesus asked, “Which one of these three people was a real neighbor to the man who was beaten up by robbers?”
The onus is on the questioner, on the expert.  He is not asked which man needs a neighbor.  He is forced to say that someone he hates is a good neighbor.
What makes the Good Samaritan good?  It’s as much what he doesn’t do as what he does. He doesn’t ignore the victim.  He doesn’t blame the victim for traveling alone on the road.  He doesn’t check to see if anyone is watching him.  He doesn’t wait for someone else to come along and take care of the problem.  He doesn’t just dump him on somebody’s doorstep.
The Good Samaritan  does three things:
First, he sees the man in need.  He does not see a man of a different culture, occupation or race. He sees a human being.4
Second, the Samaritan not only sees the man in need as a neighbor, but he draws near to him, coming over to help. The other two gave this man in need a wide berth, creating even more distance between them. But the Samaritan instead goes to him, and becomes vulnerable in that closeness. 5
Third, after seeing him and coming close, the Samaritan has compassion on him, tending his wounds, transporting him to the inn, making sure he is taken care of. Seeing is vital, drawing near imperative, yet the final and meaningful gesture is that the Samaritan actually does something about it. Compassion, in this sense, is sympathy put into action. And these three inter-related moves – seeing, drawing near, and having compassion – offer us an example of what it is to be Christ-like, for God in Jesus saw our vulnerability and need, drew near in the Incarnation to embrace us, and in the cross took action by identifying with us to the very end, rising again so that death could no longer dominate us.6
In case you think you might want to be a Good Samaritan, be careful.  You’re going to have to observe the world around you, looking for trouble. You’re going to have to make yourself vulnerable to all kinds of danger. You’re going to have to spend time and money and effort; you’re going to have to follow through.
It is so easy to pass by on the other side of the road.  It is so easy to post ALL LIVES MATTER or BLACK LIVES MATTER or BLUE LIVES MATTER on Facebook and feel like you’ve done your part. That is so sterile that you might as well be working in an operating room.  Instead, if you want to be the Good Samaritan, you have to draw near, you have to get involved, you have to associate with people who aren’t your type, you have to risk being beaten and robbed, literally or metaphorically.  And you have to have compassion. You cannot say “those people” need to understand how to respect cops or “those people” need to quit picking on “black” people.  And sitting on the sidelines wondering why we can’t all just get along isn’t changing anything.
You see, a Good Samaritan changes things. He changes his aversion to his enemy.  He changes his environment, where he goes, he changes his routine, his budget.  He provides for the victim until the victim is healed. He touches the victim.
Here is the problem for us, in this current time of crisis.  How do we reach out to the victims, how do we touch them, how do we care for them?  How do we act in a genuine manner instead of merely passing on gossip and opinions?
Be observant.  Walk your usual walk, but be observant. From my personal experience, I’ve found that God places you where God needs you to do some work. Draw near, get closer, get involved.  Ideally, the person in need of  help will not be unconscious and can be a part of the conversation.  Have compassion. In other words, don’t judge.  If you’re worried about pouring water down a rat hole, your compassion won’t be genuine.  I can cite numerous examples of reaching out and getting slapped. (New Orleans; Anthony) On the other hand, you have to be discerning in how you help.  There is no substitute for a careful analysis of the relationship between needs and boundaries.
Jesus made it look so easy—until he got to Jerusalem.  Being a Christian is not easy; it is not natural.  We are born sinful and we have to fight that human nature everyday.  At least I do.
Jesus told the Good Samaritan story to challenge the educated young man. Jesus forces the young man to say that there is such a thing as a good Samaritan. Jesus forces us to say that there is such a thing as a good policeman, a good politician, a good white supremacist, a good Gangster Disciple.
There are four characters in this parable. We can walk in the shoes of any of the four: victim, passerby, law-abiding citizen, risk-taker.
The Good Samaritan was not looking for trouble; trouble found him.
When someone else’s trouble finds you, will you quickly walk by or will you draw near?   Amen.



1 Contemporary English Version (CEV)2 John Wesley’s commentary on the whole Bible was produced between 1754 and 1765. 3 John Wesley’s commentary on the whole Bible was produced between 1754 and 1765.4