Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Jesus needs to make up his mind. In Luke chapter 10, we hear two different commands. First, in the passage we read last week, Jesus says that we need to love our neighbor. He tells a story of a man saving an injured man on the road. Then, in the very next part of chapter 10, the reading we just heard today, he is talking about how it is better to sit and listen than to act out loving our neighbor - as in Martha providing food for Jesus and the disciples. So, which is it? Acting or listening? Providing help and sustaining food for our neighbor, or sitting at the feet of Jesus, taking in his teachings?
I’m wondering if Jesus, through these two stories, is trying to say, “It’s both” and lifting up Mary and criticizing Martha, which is the way this passage is usually interpreted. Martha was irritated that Mary was not helping her with the food. So she asked Jesus to intervene; and Jesus, as some interpret his words, criticized her and said Mary was doing the more important thing. I have always seen this reading as complimenting Mary, the one sitting at Jesus’s feet, learning how to love God.
But did you notice Jesus didn’t actually criticize Martha? He spoke to her kindly, urging her to take a breath and understand what Mary was doing. She wasn’t just avoiding the kitchen work. She was embodying the first part of the greatest commandment, which we heard the lawyer recite last week. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” Martha was living out the second part of the commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Martha was showing her love for Jesus and the disciples by caring for them with a good meal and hospitality.
Jesus and the disciples have been traveling on the road to Jerusalem. They must be tired and in need of not only food and drink, but also a place to spend the night. Martha is trying to make them welcome, in the best way she knows how, just as the Samaritan did for the man found on the side of the road. He stopped what he was doing, and did everything he could to help the man, including delaying his journey, bandaging his wounds, and paying for his care.
Martha’s problem is that in her anxiety to get everything perfect, she can’t see the value of what Mary is doing. She thinks Mary should be helping her instead of what she sees as doing nothing. Jesus gently corrects Martha, because what he sees is someone wanting to love God with all her heart strength soul and mind.
I believe Luke places these two stories together so that his readers, and we as well, could see that both action and contemplation are needed to Love God and our neighbor. And that we are all gifted in different but complementary ways. Amen.