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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings: "Martha, Martha, Martha" edition

For those of us who watched "The Brady Bunch as kids, we might remember that classic moment when the middle sister, Jan was whining about not feeling special because her older sister, Marsha seemed always to be in the spotlight.

As a girl with a younger sister who seemed to be the center of everyone's attention, I can identify!

The gospel lesson this week is the story of two other sisters, Martha and Mary. They couldn't be more different, and had different ways of being around Jesus. Martha wonders aloud to Jesus why she gets stuck doing all the work while her sister just sits and listens. Jesus' response to her "Mary has chosen the better part" has always stung me just a little. (Okay, a lot.)

I find that when a text irritates me, that irritation is often the starting point for my study and reflection. So that's why I'm starting with the gospel this week. How about you?


  1. Well, I'll be off lectionary this coming Sunday to celebrate the commemoration of Mary Magdalene, Apostle, but I've had a lot of fun (and frustration) wrestling with this text in past years. One approach I took that was fun was the idea that we all have a little Mary and a little Martha in all of us. If I can find it, I'll post the sermon I used last time around on my blog. Otherwise, I highly recommend Edwina Gately's beautiful poem about Martha in her book "Soul Sisters: Women in Scripture Speak to Women Today." --Orbis Books, with lovely illustrations by Louis Glanzman--

  2. First post and I'm not even preaching this week! How strange.

    We leave for Texas at 4:20 am tomorrow for a 3-day vacation at my brother's, followed by the Disciples General Assembly in Fort Worth. I might even get to meet the Vicar of Hogsmeade while I'm away. Today I'm packing, finishing up the worship bulletins for the next 2 Sundays, trying to finish designing a brochure for our preschool and putting an offer on a house! Agghh!

    See you all 10 days from now. And Discples sisters, see you in Fort Worth at the Daughters of Clara breakfast!

    Blessings on all who preach and listen this week.

  3. I am always challenged by this scripture, and wonder what we don't know, could it be attitude rather than the actions ... was Marthas complaining more the point than her actual activity- had she simply prepared the meal as an act of love might that have also been accepted- but then Jesus does seem to say that Mary was OK just to sit and listen....

    Challenging indeed- and I have a cluster ( 3 congregation) service to preach this week!

  4. As a long time altar guild person and general "get things done" type this text has always prickled me a bit too (ok more than a bit). Definitely going to require some thinking...

  5. There is a bit of the Mary and Martha in all of us and so it should be. What always strikes me with the text though it's that Martha's attitude is in need of healing - she resented her sister sitting ...and I can almost see her banging pots loudly to get the point that she was stuck in the kitchen across. Somehow the joy was robbed from her.

    Later though (after Lazarus' death ) it is Martha who came running to Jesus. She's still an A type personality :) but that wasn't the problem all along. If that makes sense!

  6. Hello friends,

    in service of all who might decide to go with the Mary Magdalene texts, I will volunteer to host an alternate Tuesday Lectionary Leanings (re Magdalene) over at my place.



  7. Not in the pulpit this week - but as I was thinking about my attitudes vis-a-vis a friend who is a self-confessed Martha...

    I think it might be worth exploring the idea of spiritual gifts and offerings of service.

    When we are offering service back to God that requires exercising the gifts we are given, it is more often a joyful experience.

    When we offer ourselves in areas that are "hard work" or that ought to be someone else's job - we're much more likely to complain and miss out on the blessings of the service.

    Maybe Martha is like me - way short on hospitality. Historically speaking, that would truly be a bad deal!

  8. I love how most of us are a bit rankled by this text, and how many of us connect to Martha and the doing. I was thinking a lot about this story as I was walking this morning, and what is intriguing is that Martha complains to Jesus, not to Mary to come and help her. (I wonder why she doesn't?) Yes, I agree there is a little of each sister in all of us...and I think that Martha was doing the best she could. She was needing Jesus, she was responding to Jesus in the way she knew how...and she needed Jesus to redirect her so she could get what she was needing...need to think and ponder more...but the text is rich, isn't it? But still, I think....Martha was doing completely what she was supposed to be doing--offering hospitality. I know that this is also story of roles/work/practice in early Christian house churches...

  9. I don't know yet which Mary to address this week ... Mary Apostle or Mary Disciple.

    The main difference IMO between Mary and Martha is that Martha didn't know she had a choice ... but how much you want to bet she remembered next time?

    This is also, BTW, another example of a time when Jesus subverted traditional family values ... ;) Woman, come forth out of that kitchen, untie those apron strings, sit down at my feet and let's converse.

  10. For some reason, when I was picking my text to preach on a few weeks ago, I picked Amos. Perhaps it was the vision of the ripe summer fruit at the beginning of the passage. Or the proclamation that there would be a famine of the word of the Lord at the end. Regardless, I'm looking at the prophet this week. Any others out there contemplating the words of Amos?

  11. Last time I preached this I suggested a "rest of the story" ending - Jesus going into the kitchen with both sisters to finish dinner preparations. . . Yes, radical for a 1st century man, but then, Jesus was pretty radical.

    Unfortunately, that sermon isn't on this computer so I can't quite remember how I got there :-(

  12. I tink that the story is unfair to MArtha. After all it doens't say she is being overly fanciful in her way of offering hospitality. She may just be getting out some bread and water for this crowd (at least I assume it is a bit of a crowd)who have stopped by.

    My sermon They Also Serve... is heading towards talk about hospitality. True hospitality needs both MAry and Martha. THe whole challenge is in finding a balance.

    I am also talk about the UCW (United Church Women). THey are an organization that has often struggled in many places to find the balance between doing and being.

  13. I preached this sermon on the Martha and Mary text this past February.

    I preached it for Baptist Women in Ministry Day (as it says in the sermon).

  14. Just read this comment on Desperate Preacher:
    Isn't that the very reason new home buyers want the open floorplan and huge kitchens, so they can still be with their family or friends while they
    fix the meal?...I grew up in the era when kitchens were closed off
    from the dining and living rooms so nobody could
    see the cook hard at work.

    ANd I think this is right. I know when I am visiting and the person goes to the kitchen to make tea etc I usually follow to keep the conversation going. ANd certainly houses with large kitchen mean that the kitchen is where most of the important chat happens.

  15. Amos appeals to me too after reading Daniel Clenedin's comments on Amos at textweek ... those are thought provoking.

  16. I attended a CE conference this past January and heard a phenomenal talk on this very scripture passage by Francis Taylor Gench. She enlightened me by pointing out that Scripture never places MArtha in the kitchen...we did that ourselves assuming that's the only place women would be busy with "her many tasks". In fact the Women's Bible Commentary mentions the greek word for Martha's "serving" is every where else in the NT used to describe ministry of word and table (I'm paraphrasing here). Martha was in fact distracted by her ministries, that were likely overwhelming her...something we female pastors know nothing about! How often has ministry gotten in the way of listening to Christ? Ministry is important, Christ wouldn't disagree with that, and authorized for both men and women. But ministry can often cloud our attitudes toward other types of ministry (ministry of study, contemplation, prayer, listening, etc.) Often we forsake one for the other. That's where I'm hoping to go this week!

  17. ps. I didn't mean to be anonymous, I juts can't seem to log on to my blogger account that I don't use! I'm Rev. Coffee.

  18. I preached on Mary Magdalene last time it was her day, but only from notes, so I don't have a manuscript... I do love that text though. I'm thinking of going with Genesis and hospitality, and then bringing in Mary and Martha... also preached on those two a long time ago. It was the 25th anniversary of the ordination of women in my denomination. So I lifted up Mary's right to study.

    Also, I have thought of this text in terms of timing...i.e. remembering back when I was a kid, how we couldn't open any Christmas presents until all of the dishes were washed and dried. I think that Martha really wanted to listen to Jesus, but she thought all the work had to be done FIRST. then she could sit, as a reward. Jesus says, no, it's the other way around. Mary has chosen the better part.

  19. p.s., thanks prairie pastor, for the reference to Edwina Gateley, I will definitely be getting ahold of this, and to REv. Coffee, for Francis Gench.

  20. oh, sorry to be so verbose, but I just got the weird thought that this is kind of a mild form of the Cain and Abel story. nobody kills anybody, but both sisters "offer" a kind of devotion -- active service (with distraction) and mindful listening... Jesus accepts one devotion and not the other. And just like with Cain and Abel, we have a hard time understanding why.

  21. I think I'm going to work with both Genesis (the Oaks of Mamre and the icon of the Trinity) and the Gospel. Somehow I'll speak about being present to God as we experince God in the world and in our lives AND balancing the external need "to do" with the internal need "to be" as in being present to God...with the idea that both doing and being are important, the goal is that our doing be grounded in God...if that makes any sense?

    But we have VBS this week, so I won't actually get to the sermon for awhile...

  22. Don't know how many of you have read Renita Weems' "Just a Sister Away," but she has some excellent thoughts on this story.

  23. Diane I like that thought the Cain and Abel parallel crossed my mind too- I wonder if it is that God looks at the heart where we see the surface actions and end up scratching our heads in dismay!

  24. One source I read today suggests that the contrast is not between doing and listening, but between anxiety and listening. I also keep hearing that we must look at the Good Samaritan and M&M in tandem. I'm going to keep digging in that direction, I think. Although Emily, your comment got me back thinking on Amos who is such a cool dude!

  25. I preached on Mary and Martha when the PCUSA celebrated the gifts of women back in march. I vaguely remember doing something about "doing" flowing from "being"--that we can't give without first receiving from God, or something like that. Nothing earth-shattering, but I dug it up and you can see it here. This week it's SP's turn to take on M&M. lucky him.

  26. I've been thinking about this scripture, and for some reason, compared it to the Luke 7 story of Jesus at Simon's house. Simon does not engage in hospitality, while Martha does. I think this tells us that it is not what they are DOING that is what Jesus is trying to change. He is trying to transform their focus. Mary is focused on Jesus -- on God -- while Martha is not. The woman in the Luke story is focused on Jesus -- on God -- while Simon is not. Focusing on God is the "better way."

  27. Wow! I leave my computer for a while and come back to this wonderful discussion. I am surely enjoying all of the different points of view.

    Keep sharing those resources!

  28. I am not preaching ( because I am just beginning seminary this fall) but a few years ago there was a T-shirt in the Wireless catalog that came to mind. ( Please bear with me). "To do is to be" - Plato
    "To be is to do"- Camus
    "Do be do be do"- Sinatra
    The point is that it seems to me that Martha is stuck in the "do/be" conflict, kind of like a dog chasing its tail. How many times have shortchanged ourselves by not allowing God in because we are too busy "doing ministry"? We overlook stopping to listen and be fed. We overlook self care. We deny ourselves the time to ponder. Are we not then denying God proper place? Then we cease to serve out of love, our work/ministry becomes a drudgery. Or, it could be that Martha is like my children. Someone comes to report that someone isn't doing what they "should" or their fair share. It just isn't right that one person is working harder or longer ( like the parable of the workers in the vineyard). Martha wants Jesus to tell Mary to stop just sitting around when there is work to be done. He is reorganizing what is really important instead of playing the game children play with their parents and redirecting Martha. As a Martha myself, I think what makes me prickled by this is the way Jesus talks to Martha-it feels like he does not appreciate what she does.

  29. John Shea in his book for Luke Year C "The Relentless Widow: The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers" suggest that we hear Jesus speaking to Mary and Martha as if they were two aspects of one person: one aspect that understands the importance of contemplative life while the other aspect understands the importance of acting on what God wants us to do (in particular be hospitable to others). The point of this reading, coming right after the lawyer and Good Sam is to once again play these two issues off each other - doing and being. I think it helps us to hear this story if we think of Mary and Martha, from a spiritual perspective, as one person - one person who is more in tune with her doing side than her being side. At least I think that is the point is making. I read it early this morning and then went off for a day of VBS, may have missed or forgotten some of his point...but may be a useful way to ponder this reading...

  30. I wonder what would happen in the minds of the congregation if this story was preached using the names "Mike" and "Manny" with "Manny" being the one sitting at the feet of Jesus????

    Even though Jesus helped to breaked the social taboos of women it seems that this passage still casts women in the passive mode.

    For me renaming helps to release the stigma of the "women's work" is always the hospitality (Although previous comments suggest more along the lines of ministy).

    My 2 cents worth

  31. some scholars think the reason that this story comes right after the Good Samaritan is that they both, together, illustrate, "You shall love the lord your God...., and your neighbor as yourself." Backwards, then, the GS illustrates loving your neighbor, and Mary & Martha loving God.

  32. ps - I often change genders in my illustrations, a good idea I think, to help us see things in a new way.

    diane, yes. i would concur with the scholars thinking, this section of Luke (Lawyer, Mary and Martha, et al) is concerned with unpacking what it means to love God and love neighbor. And I add, love self.

  33. Sisters, just a note to tell you that my friend that was on trial in ecclesiastical court was aquitted--actually the case was thrown out because it was clear that the bishop was trying to manipulate the court.

    I am wonderfully happy that the legal system of our church worked in a just way.

    Thanks for all the prayers

  34. These comments are fantastic. I'm doing Luke and was wondering in what direction to take my irritation. This is all very helpful! Thanks, y'all!

  35. I too am tying together the Gospel and the Genesis story of Abraham and the angels. We are welcoming new members this Sunday so I will be bringing that in as well.

    And it will be short, probably, as I have three people's worth of work to do in the next two weeks, and really want to make my sermon on the 29th special as it is our Pride service on the riverfront, with a special musician coming in (winner of Dove awards even and she's singing for us!).

  36. She was needing Jesus, she was responding to Jesus in the way she knew how...and she needed Jesus to redirect her so she could get what she was needing...need to think and ponder more...but the text is rich, isn't it?

    oh K I loved what you wrote there. Spot on!

    and ouch to what anon (rev coffee) wrote about this being a picture of us in ministry - too busy to be with Jesus. Thanks too (I think )

    and law and gospel -to be honest I do feel that Jesus doesn't appreciate what Martha does - but he does appreciate who she is. That's the crux of this passage for me.

    and yeah it hurts !!!!

  37. yes, muthah, we're so grateful to hear your news

  38. A commentary I read last week pointed to the tension between the lawyer and Martha. The lawyer is really asks, "When have I done enough? Who can I limit to being my neighbor?" Jesus responds with an example (the Good Sam) who is excessive in his hospitality and whose neighbor is unknown and unclean. The lawyer (and all of us) are left with the tension that we will never give enough and we are called to help everyone.
    A perfect Martha set-up!
    Martha -- the one doing, doing, doing -- is challenged by Jesus to learn to "be."
    Yet again, Jesus doesn't make it easy. No Oprah book, no list of 5 easy steps...

  39. Thanks, Rev Coffee for pointing out that the Mary-Martha text does NOT mention the kitchen ...

    I was just talking with someone yesterday about how difficult it is not to read one's culture into the Word and I did exactly that.

    The highlighted link on textweek this week is an interview with a prof who has taught on Christian Mysticism. This fellow speaks of how Meister Eckhart interprets Martha's role even more differently still. Eckhart commends Martha over Mary, because he believes she is both contemplative and active, as opposed to Mary who's just contemplative.

    Here's the article:

  40. Does anyone who hears this Word ever consider themselves to be Mary in the story? Ever?

    I don't recall anyone ever confessing to me, I'm such a Mary! I ponder Jesus too much; spend too much time in prayer; I wish I could be more like Martha! She gets so much accomplished!

    (I don't think so!)

  41. Haven't had time to read all the comments, but I went with the irritation :-) I call this Gospel "The Martha-Mary Double Bind." You're welcome to have a look.

    (Hi Mags! Happy feast! I posted one for that, too.)


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