2010-07-14 by Stephen Schuette

Someone offered this question/comment to me through Submit a Question above.  My response is below.

Do you think that the "urgency" of this final trip to Jerusalem might have been in the back of Jesus' mind in this instance? I don't think that Jesus altered his message from his early ministry to this point, but he was running out of time in trying to explain what was going to happen to him to his followers who still did not understand his purpose on Earth. So in Mary and Martha, he sees one who understands the need to sit and listen to what he has to say, and one who doesn't. It then becomes not that Martha is doing the "wrong" thing, but that Mary is doing the "right" thing. To me, the actions of these two women sum up the two responses of those who followed his ministry. Jesus knew his time was almost up on Earth, and in these two women he found one where he wanted all of his followers to be, and one who didn't grasp the importance of his visit in this late stage in his life.

My response to this unknown questioner:  I like your focus on Jesus.  That seems like a faithful way to hear the text, and so would offer a word of appreciation about that.  And I'd agree that Jesus is concerned about his followers after he is gone.  But I wonder if he is concerned for himself or for them?

I'm trying to get at a basic problem with the story that troubles me.  Apparently Jesus has received and benefited from Martha's hospitality.  To partake of that and then to turn around and side with her sister and to suggest that she should not have been offering that type of hospitality at all but should have been doing what Mary was doing all along doesn't make sense.  Jesus, and presumably Mary too, have stomachs that are full and appetites that are satisfied all due to Martha's hospitality.  What I'm suggesting is that if Jesus desired that attention from both Mary and Martha he could have invited it before eating the meal.  To do so afterward, and then to make comment at Martha's expense makes Jesus almost abusive of Martha's energies and efforts after he has benefited from them.

To be sure, Jesus appreciates Mary's devotion and attention.  But I suspect that while eating the meal he also appreciated Martha's devotion and attention, as he appreciated the woman who anointed him with oil at another meal(Luke 7:45ff).  It could be that Jesus isn't judgmental about the way in which people show their devotion and attention.  The only requisite is that it be genuine.  But he is consistently judgmental of judgment.  That is what clearly betrays a lack of genuineness in the devotion toward Jesus (and the great commandment) and is of concern in believers’ relationships with each other after he is gone.  After all, if either Martha or Mary can triangle Jesus there'll be no end to it among the followers of Jesus in the Church.

Authentic Ministry
2010-07-13 by Stephen Schuette

The most striking thing about the Mary and Martha story, from a family systems point of view, is the triangling.  The situation is, after all, perfectly suited to it.  There are two siblings and a person of authority whose authority they both recognize.  What a set up!  It seems to invite pyschologizing.

As with every triangle the undifferentiated members would like to draw you in.  Every pastor knows the signs.  “Pastor, don’t you think this color for the carpeting is best?”  “Pastor, don’t you think Gene is shirking his responsibilities as Chair of the Trustees?”  “Pastor, I’ve managed the kitchen for 30 years.  If I didn’t do it, it would fall to pieces.  It just seems like no one else cares.”

Viewed in this way the “trap” of the story is to work ourselves into the middle of the triangle and take sides:  bad Martha, good Mary; bad to act, good to sit and listen; bad to “do,” good to “be.”  But this betrays the way that Jesus seems open to both Mary and Martha from the beginning of the story both for who they are and the gifts they have to offer.

After all, Jesus might have preemptively said at some point to Martha, “Martha, why don’t you let the dishes be?  We’ll get to those later.  But for now I’d like to have you in the conversation so we can all be together.”  If he really thought it would be better for Martha to listen than be active he could have said that.  But Jesus is not judging either Mary or Martha.

Martha is the one to raise the issue against her sister.  And I hear Jesus saying, “Martha, this judgment isn’t coming from your genuine self.  It’s coming out of your worries and distractions and anxieties.”  In other words, perhaps if Martha would have offered her service calmly, centerdly, genuinely there would be a blessing in that too rather than jealousy and spite.  So the “better part” is not about being “active” or “passive” but being your true, God-given self.  That’s what can’t be taken from Mary, or us.  (Interesting that the hospitality in Genesis is so authentic.)

It could be that Jesus is only judging Martha’s judgment.  Otherwise he is radically affirming of both.  And there’s a powerful message about women (and indirectly, men) in the early church:  we don’t have a “role,” we have a ministry that is connected with our genuine, God-given selves.

Hypocrisy Sermon
2010-07-10 by David von Schlichten

My sermon for July 11 is based on the Good Samaritan story and is in part a response to the common criticism that the Church is full of hypocrites. The sermon contends that, just as it is unfair to label all Samaritans as no good, so also is it unfair to label all priests and Levites - and other Church members - as hypocrites. You can read my sermon and give me feeback by going to "Share It!" and then to the "Sermon Feedback Cafe."

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Stephen Schuette; Good Samaritan, Serial Killers, and Flannery O'Connor
2010-07-09 by David von Schlichten

Stephen has provided a substantial post full of useful material. Scroll down and soak it up.

Flannery O'Connor, a writer from Georgia who was a devout Roman Catholic and made extensive use of Christian ideas and imagery in her fiction, has a short story entitled, "A Good Man is Hard to Find" that fits with the Good Samaritan passage in a provocative, complex way.

The story is about a grandmother who is on a road trip to Florida with her adult son and his wife and children. The grandmother is self-righteous and complains endlessly about how young people today are no good and the world is going to pieces and everything was better when she was young. Through an error of recollection, she leads her family down a wrong road. They end up wrecking the car when the grandmother's cat, whom she has brought along, distracts the driver.

While stranded on the road in the middle of nowhere, the grandmother and her family have a shocking, horrific encounter. A serial killer called the Misfit and his two henchmen pull up beside the family. The henchmen take each family member to the woods and shoot them, one by one. The grandmother can hear them pleading and screaming in the background.

Meanwhile, the grandmother tries to plead for the Misfit to spare her. At this point, all her self-righteousness drops away. She is kind and affirming with the Misfit, saying that she can tell that he is good at heart. Finally, she says, "You are one of my children," and the Misfit shoots her to death.

She lies on the ground with her face gazing heavenward and her body in a position reminiscent of prayer. O'Connor is suggesting that the grandmother had found the grace of God in her last moments.

The Misfit then says of her, basically, "She was the kind of woman who could have been a good person if someone had been there to shoot her every minute of her life."

One scholar suggests that the Misfit functions as a savior-figure for the grandmother in that he brings out the best in her. In a sense, then, the Misfit is a variety of Good Samaritan, despite the fact that he does not mean to be. We have a serial killer who, through terrorizing and killing a person, saves her. The Good Serial Killer. 

That's probably too convoluted and dark to put into a sermon, but perhaps O'Connor's story can help to stimulate our thinking about this parable.

By the way, Flannery O'Connor is full of this kind of rich, religious, provocative story-telling. If only she had lived beyond 39.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator

Couple of Thoughts
2010-07-09 by Stephen Schuette

From two colleagues, these thoughts:

  1. Henry Nouwen (Sabbatical Journey) -- "Our faithfulness will depend on our willingness to go where there is brokenness, loneliness and human need. If the church has a future, it is a future with the poor in whatever form."
  2. From a study Bible (not sure of the ID or publisher) on Amos 5:12 -- Eight common excuses for not helping the poor and needy:

    "1) They don't deserve help. They got themselves into poverty; let them get themselves out.
    2) God's call to help the poor applies to another time.
    3) We don't know any people like this.
    4) I have my own needs.
    5) Any money I give will be wasted, stolen or spent. The poor will never see it.
    6) I may become a victim myself.
    7) I don't know where to start, and I don't have time.
    8) My little bit won't make any difference."
  3. I was intrigued by David’s review of the classic Charles Chaplin film, City Lights, in reference to the parable and the idea that this might be primarily a parable about sight. (See Lectionary Homiletics, p. 53)  There are all kinds of stories in the Gospels:  healings that include, sight, lameness, possessions, etc.; parables, feedings, sermons, conversations…  But perhaps we too cleanly categorize them.  For Luke perhaps they are all related to his view that a basic prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus, that the anointed one brings “good news to the poor…release to captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed for free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)  Isn’t it a form of blindness that obstructs the priest and Levite, even though they “see” the wounded traveler?  And isn’t it essentially a blindness about his neighbor that Jesus is attempting to cure in the lawyer?

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