There was a guest in the house. An important guest. A beloved guest.
And, what do you do when a beloved friend comes over? You clean. You cook.
And that’s exactly what Martha did. She got the house ready. She provided food, refreshment, and hospitality.
And that’s all good and fine… except her sister was no help at all. She was out in the living room with Jesus. She was out listening to Jesus’ sermon, sitting at his feet.
And boy did that set Martha off.
This story is often interpreted as showing the two modes of discipleship: Mary showing us learning from Jesus, and Martha showing us how to serve like Jesus. And, there’s obviously something to this interpretation.
But, we also see Martha as an icon of something else: a person overwhelmed by distractions and anxiety.
“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.” Those words, spoken two thousand years ago, could just as well be spoken today. We are a world that seems to thrive off of being worried and distracted.
This story then, is about us. It’s about us being the kind of disciple that is focused only on what truly matters.
Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet – which is how ancient students sat before their teachers. In the ancient world, teachers sat on a chair or stool to teach, and their students would sit on the floor in front of them. Part of the scandal of this story is that Mary is clearly showing her desire to be a student of Jesus’ at a time when women were rarely given the opportunity to be a student.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, a lot has been made of the “priest” and the “Levite” not wanting to touch the man because they couldn’t touch a corpse, for that would make them ritually unclean and unable to perform their religious functions. This is tacitly wrong.
First of all, the man wasn’t dead. And, even if the man was indeed dead, the religious law of the time stipulated that they would have to at least have to go and find help, if not ensure that the man was buried themselves.
Second of all, their clear religious and ethical duty was always to help those in need. Helping others always trumps the Biblical purity codes.
They just didn’t want to. For whatever reason.
But, the reason doesn’t matter. It doesn’t even matter that they are religious leaders. Regardless of their professions, they are clearly terrible people. Or, at least they are normal people doing a terrible thing.
Jesus’ choice of having the hero of the story be a Samaritan is the real point of the story. When everyone else is acting terribly, the Samaritan does the right thing—the honorable thing.
And this would have made the people listening to Jesus here very uncomfortable. A good portion of them might rather die in the ditch than be helped by a Samaritan.
People being terrible isn’t news. It wasn’t news back then, and it’s not really news today. But, people who were THOUGHT to be terrible people (like Samaritans) doing the right and honorable thing IS news.
Jesus is stretching our understanding of who our neighbor is—who we have to love—and who we have to treat fairly and rightly.
Because Jesus is clearly saying that E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E is our neighbor, everyone is worthy of our love, and everyone is at the very least worthy of our help when they are in need.
Historical Item of Interest:
The Road to Jericho was infamous in Jesus’ day. It would eventually be graded and paved in 60AD, by the Roman Empire, so that they could get their troops to Jerusalem to destroy it. But, in Jesus’ day (in the 30’s) it was a crazy steep road that went right up a mountain, and featured a huge cliff on one side. It was a harrowing place to travel, where if you ran into trouble, there was no escape.
“See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.”
Wow. Jesus doesn’t sugarcoat this, does he?
He could have said, “Oh, don’t worry. It will all be fine. Totally fine. Your got this. It’ll be great, trust me!”
But, no. He just tells it like it is. When you go out into the world you’re going to be like the defenseless little lambs, and there are ravenous wolves all around you who are ready to rip you apart.
Now, “Have fun storming the castle!”
But, here’s the thing… the message that he sent the disciples out with was the answer to all their own fears: “The Kingdom of God has come near.”
The reality is that the world is a tough place. It’s an especially tough place for people who seek to live with grace, faith, forgiveness, and peace. The world can chew us up and spit us out.
But, in the end, it’s ok, because the Kingdom of God is near. It’s close. It’s nearby. It’s around the corner. It’s just on the other side. It’s above you, below you, and within you.
Knowing that, all of a sudden the wolves don’t look as scary.
An Interesting bit:
When Jesus tells his disciples to enter a house and “eat whatever is set before you,” that would have been a stunning statement in his day. All of his disciples were Jews who kept Kosher. What he’s saying here, is that when they receive hospitality from strangers, they are to accept them as they are, even if it means breaking their kosher diet.
There are some moments in the ministry of Jesus where I’d love to have a picture. This weekend’s Gospel lesson is one of those moments.
Jesus is rebuffed from entering a Samaritan village, and two of his disciples (James and John) ask Jesus if he’d like for them to call down fire from heaven to consume them.
The look on Jesus’ face right there is what I want a picture of. I can just picture Jesus turning his head slowly, and giving them a “Really?… Really?!” look.
I mean is there anything in the entire ministry of Jesus that would lead you to think that Jesus would want a bunch of people burned alive?
But, there are two of his disciples, ready to make it happen.
What we see here is the age-old desire to protect God—as if what God needs is protection from anything. James and John wanted to protect Jesus’ honor from being besmirched, but Jesus doesn’t care about that.
When have you ever felt the need to protect God from someone else?
The Samaritans are a group of Jews who didn’t get taken off to Babylon during the Babylonian captivity in the late 500’s BC. The Jews who WERE taken off to Babylon were jealous of them, and their ancestors were shunned. In Jesus’ day, Samaritans were hated and reviled. Samaritans developed their own religious rituals based on the Old Testament, and they practice those rituals to this day in modern Israel. There’s only a few hundred ethnic Samaritans left.