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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

I wonder what Jesus was saying as Mary sat at his feet - 07/21/2019

“Grace to you and peace from God … and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God …, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Based on Paul’s greeting to the Galatians, who were really jacking things up.)

I wonder what Jesus was saying, as Mary sat at his feet?

I know, for many of us, myself included, when we hear this story we often find ourselves asking – “Are you are a Martha or a Mary?” “Am I a Mary or a Martha?”

Earlier this week, I gathered around this story with Bruce Dausey and a couple of hockey-playing confirmation students doing a little class make up this summer, and each of us, with hardly any prompting at all, identified with one of these disciples.

I think it’s what the Gospel writer hoped we would do. It helps us locate ourselves and others in the story, and even more than that, … it helps us locate ourselves in God’s story.

There have been times in the church’s history with this story that it has been reduced to an either/or situation, mistakenly assuming that Jesus’ response to Martha puts her in her place and elevates Mary above her. I don’t believe that’s a very good interpretation and I think most of us can sense that we and others have embodied both of these responses to Jesus.

At times Jesus meets us and we are like Mary – students at his feet, listening, discussing, opening our hearts and our minds. We are trying to discern God’s way.

At other times Jesus meets us and we are compelled to act, as he so often urges us, lovingly and abundantly on behalf of neighbor, like Martha is doing here. We are trying to be God’s way.

This is a very important teaching we take from this reading and I don’t think it’s a radical idea – at least not anymore – that we all embody both of these disciples at different times and in different roles in our lives.

So I think the Spirit is pushing us to lean a little harder into this tiny little story. What happens if we continue to discern God’s way through it? What happens if we look a little more deeply for how it compels us to be God’s way?

One way to lean into the story a little more is to put aside looking for what is there and think about what isn’t there. And so I wonder: What was Jesus saying, as Mary sat at his feet?

Was it a parable? Did she ask questions and then like the rest of us, get mostly questions in response? Questions that challenge and encourage and dare us to go deeper and more – always more – when it comes to the Kingdom of God?

Was Jesus telling Mary and the others gathered around him about something that happened on road? Perhaps they discussed issues of racism and intolerance, and dehumanization of the one who does not look like us, or act like us, or speak or worship or eat like us as he told them about the time in Gerasene when he met a man afflicted with many, many demons.

…a man chained up with the dead, out of his mind, not Jewish, an eater of pork, a worshiper of who knows what? … and – bottom line – a child of God.

Were they re-telling scriptures together? Maybe like us, they recounted the story of Abraham who chose the way of ridiculously abundant hospitality at the arrival of three strangers.

Maybe they talked about the other choices Abraham could have made when he first saw their silhouettes on the horizon, slowing taking shape as they came closer.  He could have ignored them as they passed. He could have felt threatened by them – maybe they had bigger weapons or more money, maybe they had different perspectives and grand visions that were sure to rattle his day-to-day life. He could have presumed the worst, locked his compound down, sent for others of his kind and greeted the strangers with intimidation and defense – after all, what if they had come to rob them or take land or become part of the community with all their different ways and gods?

Maybe Mary sat captivated at the story of the Good Samaritan and how it made her think differently about the foreigners she encountered in her daily life – the ones you avoid eye contact with, the ones someone has told you to fear and even hate.

If she were in trouble like the beat up man in the story, would one of those foreign people help her? If she saw one of them in trouble, what would she do? Were there even times when she would turn a blind eye to one of her own people in the ditch?

Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus lived very close to Jerusalem. Their house was part of that Jewish Holy Temple-Occupied Roman Territory atmosphere that would ultimately see Jesus hanging on the cross. So maybe Jesus and Mary and the others were talking about how God calls us to respond to unjust rulers or those who build their kingdoms on the backs of the vulnerable, literally and politically … those who twist the Word of God to fill their pockets and keep their power.

It is fruitful to imagine what Jesus was saying as Mary sat at his feet. Of course, we cannot say any of this for sure, but even if we cannot know exactly what our Great Teacher was imparting to Mary and the others, I think we can confidently know the overarching proclamation Jesus had for them that day – the very same proclamation he has for us today.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” Jesus says to his students throughout time, because God “has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. (God) has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. … Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:18-19, 21b)

That is what we celebrate when we come together here for worship. That Good News is still proclaimed to us at our communion table where we are nourished for our Jesus-following lives, where we are reminded that although we are broken and prone to sin, God has chosen for us abundant forgiveness and is tirelessly conspiring to bring us near.


Perhaps it was the dynamic between these two disciples – Mary, the one trying to discern God’s way, and Martha, the one trying to be God’s way – that gave Jesus an opportunity for this other teaching we can hear quite plainly, as now we are all gathered, Martha and all of us, in that room at Jesus’ feet.

It might not be what your family or colleagues expect or want you to take the time for, Jesus tries to help all of us see … as he reminds us that we are not disappointed or foolish to center all we say and do in God’s Word.

Martha responded to Jesus’ presence as her culture expected her to – in the background, manifesting hospitality worthy of the Son of God. And Jesus comes into the situation with a new way – Yes, we do practice the example of hospitality our forefather Abraham showed us … Yes, AND, we begin at the feet of our Savior.

I believe what Jesus is teaching us here is that when we begin with God’s Word, God’s Logos, when we check back in with it as we go along, our times of trying to be God’s way are well-informed and inspired by our times of trying to discern God’s way.

And when we make that effort to sit at Jesus’ feet before the council or committee meeting, before we go to work, before having that heart-to-heart talk with our child, before ministering to that neighbor, before confirming that hockey player, before entering the political fray on any given social media platform … when we make that effort, no matter how unpopular or counter cultural, Jesus says it is a very good choice and that what we reap from that fruitful practice cannot be taken away from us.

I think this is a very relevant reminder for us Jesus-followers of this time. By nature, most of us are doers. Our American culture has brought us up hearty and self-reliant and often fearful of needing help and appearing vulnerable. Our big brains are constantly at work on a better or more productive way.

Not surprisingly, it does not take much for God’s beloved human creature to convince herself, like Martha, that she knows best or better – even when God is sitting right smack in the middle of the living room asking all with ears to hear to listen.

So, when we lean into this story a little harder, when we push ourselves beyond the tension of the all-too-familiar sibling rivalry between these two disciples, I think we hear God asking each of us – not whether we are a Martha or a Marry, rather: Where in your life have you centered it all and only on your own wisdom and expectations? Where in your life do your Martha ways need to be more informed and inspired by your Mary ways? Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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