Devotional Message: The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 11C (7/21/2019)

Revised Common Lectionary Texts

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

Semicontinuous First Reading and Psalm

Amos 8:1-12
Psalm 52

Prayer of the Day

Eternal God, you draw near to us in Christ, and you make yourself our guest. Amid the cares of our lives, make us attentive to your presence, that we may treasure your word above all else, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

10:38 Now as they went on their way, [Jesus] entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
St. Luke 10:38-42, New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Message: “The Better Part”

There has been a lot of talk about “binary thinking” in the Rocky Mountain Synod lately. Much of this has been stirred by the writings of Father Richard Rohr (American author, spiritual writer, and Franciscan friar based in Albuquerque, New Mexico). Father Rohr teaches that humans are drawn to this kind of thinking — most often when focused on people or behaviors. Binary thinking teaches that these matters are always black and white. Behaviors are right or wrong. People are right or wrong. People are winners or losers. Rohr sees this as divisive, destructive and unnecessary.

In this week’s Gospel lesson, recounting the time when Jesus visited in the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, we see two examples of faithfulness. Martha, the consummate homemaker, is excited to host Jesus in her home. Anyone familiar with entertaining can imagine her bustling about, cleaning and arranging, cooking and serving. She wants everything just right, as a way to honor this visiting rabbi and dear friend. Mary, on the other hand, is a more contemplative person. She senses that in Jesus, something unique and powerful has come to be among them, and so she quietly sits at his feet, drinking in every word he speaks.

Of course, since we are humans, the tendency is to think of this story in binary terms. If two women respond to the presence of Jesus in two entirely different manners, then one of them must be wrong and one of them must be right. Is Martha’s model of generous hospitality to be admired? Or should we appreciate Mary’s model of contemplative attention?

In the story, Jesus commends Mary and chastises Martha, which has led many to question whether or not he fully appreciates the commitment it takes for Martha to stage a dinner in her home on his behalf. Yet what would a home (or a congregation) be without any interest in hospitality? And what would our faith look like if we were completely uninterested in Jesus as a human (with specific human needs like companionship and food), and only focused on how he can impact us spiritually?

A closer look at the text, though, helps us to see that Jesus doesn’t chastise Martha for working hard. It is the result of her hard work that troubles Jesus. He says to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.” He is not scolding her for doing many things; just for allowing those many things to distract her in a way that she isn’t able to be touched, as her sister is, by spending time with Jesus. In fact, both warm hospitality and curious learning can be important aspects of a faithful life. But it is as easy to become distracted by slicing carrots and washing pans as it is by memorizing sayings and taking notes.

Jesus wants none of this. Instead, he wants us to practice faithfulness ways that are both suited to our gifts and abilities, and attentive to where God is drawing us and guiding us. So whether we practice hospitality, or seek to learn as much as we can, the purpose is to let these practices draw us into the heart of God. That, in fact, is the better part.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel

  1. What important aspects of faithfulness does Mary model for us in today’s text?

  2. What does Martha model for us?

  3. What does Jesus want for each of them; for us?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel

  1. How can my generous hospitality to others invite me into the living presence of God in my life?

  2. How might contemplating the words and message of Jesus deepen my connection to God?

  3. What balance of these two practices could work best for me?