Martha my dear

christ-with-mary-and-martha-johann-friedrich-overbeck

Artist Johann Friedrich Overbeck

Poor Martha, I feel for her – I’m pretty sure that most women do. She’s frustrated in today’s Gospel because while she is working her rear end off, her sister Mary is sitting there at Jesus’ feet listening, learning, adoring.

Did you ever notice how often we see rivalries played out in Scripture, even among those who love one another? I am guessing that this struggle between the sisters is not a new phenomenon. This particular struggle always intrigues me though, because so many of us get ourselves in a twist because we feel like we are doing more work than someone else. Also, we tend to want to explore the tale as a binary one, good-bad, black-white, right-wrong, winner-loser. Jesus always has other ways for us to understand everything in ways we do not typically imagine.

It might appear that Jesus declares Mary the winner for choosing “the better portion.” That does not make Martha the loser. What Jesus seems to be offering Martha is an invitation to sit down and spend some time with him, not to admonish her, but to bring her closer.

So many of us suffer from the need to be “doing” something all the time. This summer I have spent more time than usual on my deck reading a book – or doing nothing but contemplate the beautiful world around me. It has been heavenly. Typically I am  filling my days with this and that, having always been a poor budgeter of time, among other things. Busy-ness can seem to quell our anxiety, and I do know that is a big thing for me. Quiet time allows my fears and worries to creep in. Also, due to that poor budgeting of everything, I sometimes fritter time away with busy-ness of a non-essential sort, only to have to dive into the rush of things that need to be done. It is an endless cycle of the white noise of movement. And it keeps me from God.

On top of everything else, we live in a culture based on ever increasing productivity and efficiency. Achieving things is the source of pride, a lack of it a source of shame. Sitting at the feet of the Lord might not seem the best use of time. It might seem otherwise to Jesus however, as he notes to Martha regarding Mary.  Even in church the temptation to “do” more is evident and it seems like a form giving. It is indeed a form of giving, but the trick is to discern the balance of doing and being. That is a tough spot to discover, but one we might all well spend some time seeking out.

For what it is worth, our first reading tells us the story of Abraham and the visitors. As he welcomes them and sits with them, everyone else, his wife Sarah included, is busy in the background, unseen by the guests. This scene offers us an interesting prelude to Mary and Martha, the story of those busy “working” and those who sit at the feet of angels or God. In this tale, it would appear that everyone busily at work is there because Abraham set them in motion. One of the visitors asks about Sarah, and offers a mysterious statement about returning in a year, when she will have born a child.

In the end we are left with our own discernment of our relationship with God and with how we spend our time. Who among us cares to think about how all we have to do in order for God to love us is to simply be… What a thought! Yet that is at the very heart of Luke’s Gospel and the message of Christ. That’s not an order to stop accomplishing things, we all have some kind of work to do. It is however something to hold in heart and mind as we contemplate our relationship to God and to one another.

What choices will we make going forward? Can we sit still and participate in a holy gaze of love, heart and ears open and available to God alone? It is not easy to choose to do this “not-doing” but what might we miss if we stay in the kitchen.

(As I wrote this I kept hearing this Beatles song in my head, so I will include it along with the lyrics. It obviously influenced how I titled the post!)

Martha, my dear
Though I spend my days in conversation, please
Remember me
Martha, my love
Don’t forget me
Martha, my dear

Hold your head up, you silly girl
Look what you’ve done
When you find yourself in the thick of it
Help yourself to a bit of what is all around you
Silly girl

Take a good look around you
Take a good look you’re bound to see
That you and me were meant to be
With each other
Silly girl

Hold you’re hand out, you silly girl
See what you’ve done
When you find yourself in the thick of it
Help yourself to a bit of what is all around you
Silly girl

Martha, my dear
You have always been my inspiration
Please, be good to me
Martha, my love
Don’t forget me
Martha, my dear.

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Neighbor

Today’s Gospel from Luke is a familiar story – that of the Good Samaritan. I was well into my adult years before I learned that Samaritans were not upheld with respect by the people of first century Palestine. That’s why every time you hear about a Samaritan or a visit through Samaria in a Gospel, pay attention. That is a big part of what you are being taught by Christ.

It matters that it is not the priest or the Levite who helped the wounded man. The men who are those upholding the “law” keep on going because touching someone would likely have violated the law. There was ritual cleanliness and certain guidelines to follow as with any legal situation, church law or civil law. The Samaritan however, stops to help when he sees another human – a neighbor – in dire need.

Let’s take a quick look at that Continue reading

Be merciful, and other thoughts on interfaith life

MercifulThis morning today’s Gospel from Luke offered this message to us… a brief lesson from Jesus on how to live.

The horrific massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand continues to dominate the news. Somehow this one may have touched a new nerve. Locally, the Islamic Center of the Capital District hosted an interfaith prayer service on Sunday, and I was blessed to attend this event. That’s a big part of why today’s Gospel truly hit home. This is how we are meant to live with one another, full stop Continue reading

UPDATED Innocence and perspective

See below for update!
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Things on my mind today… how we easily pick and choose those for whom “the dignity of all human life” matters for and who it does not matter as much for, and also Odoardo Focherini. The phrase “dignity of all human life” no doubt brings forth images for you, and meaning.  I’m guessing that you may have never heard of Focherini, unless if you, like me, read about him in today’s Give Us This Day.  Reading about him on today’s Feast of the Holy Innocents reminded me that perspective and context are everything, and that makes picking and choosing our moral precepts problematic.

Liturgically in the church today is the day when we recall the massacre of the Holy Innocents by Herod. Enraged to learn that the magi had deceived him, old Herod decided it would be a good idea to just go ahead and murder the children of Bethlehem. You know, he was throwing a wide net “just in case.” We wouldn’t want any dangerous babies around, would we?

Obsessed as I am with matters of immigration debate, the irony is not lost on me and I find myself with a bitter taste in my mouth. Last week on December 21 it was reported that the White House was considering a policy where children would be separated from their parents in cases of undocumented human beings crossing the border illegally. You can read about that here. Honestly, reading terms like “family units” or “unaccompanied alien children” (also known as “UACs“) makes me sick to my stomach. This is how dehumanizing human beings, all born with the dignity of human life in them, takes off.

If you find yourself feeling Continue reading

There WILL be bread

isaiah 25v6

Today’s readings are among the most beautiful to me. Just yesterday I thought of the Isaiah reading, and then boom – earlier today, as I sat in the dim lamp light aided by one flickering Advent candle, I opened Give Us This Day and there it was.

The imagery in Isaiah is so powerful:
On this mountain the LORD of hosts
will provide for all peoples
A feast of rich food and choice wines,
juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.

God is not fooling around. The is for ALL peoples, a feast, not some little energy bar type snack that tastes like cardboard, one that is meant only for a certain few who have somehow “earned” it, and includes Continue reading

Are we listening?

transfigurationToday’s Gospel, in which we hear Luke’s Transfiguration, says many important things – as do all of the Gospels. Remember, a word is never wasted in Scripture! But for today, I want to focus on this one point.

“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”

Lately, I am pretty certain that we are not listening, and I am as guilty as anyone. As a big proponent of social media in both my personal and ministerial lives, I am often out there. Trust me, I do try to be charitable – emphasis, try. I can think of one person I seriously offended recently, and that was completely unintentional. I can only imagine others who may not have spoken up.

Yesterday was an ugly free for all out in the Twitterverse. Now Facebook is one thing, and while it can get Continue reading

War and peace, the Advent edition

i_am_for_peace_logo (1)To the LORD in the hour of my distress
I call—and he answers me.
“O LORD, save my soul from lying lips,
from the tongue of the deceitful.”
What should he give you, what repay you,
O deceitful tongue?
The warrior’s arrows sharpened,
with red-hot coals from the broom tree!
Alas, that I live in Meshech,
dwell among the tents of Kedar!
I have had enough of dwelling
with those who hate peace.
I am for peace, but when I speak,
they are for war.
Psalm 120

One week ago today, I who –  to quote the psalmist – “am for peace” became consumed with the fire of my own anger. If you do not know what I am talking about, you can read the blog post from that day, but I’m not linking to it. Righteous anger is one thing, but that was something else! Again, referring to the psalm above, “red-hot coals from the broom tree” were Continue reading