Friday, June 10, 2011

Friday in Week 7 of Easter, Year 1 - Ephrem of Edessa

Luke 10:38-42

The video here doesn't really have anything specifically to do with today's lectionary, but it's a good example of the stuff I love to listen to.

I've always been very uncomfortable with Luke's story of Jesus' visit to the home of Mary and Martha; as a perfectionist and control freak myself, I relate to Martha. I can only imagine the emotional state I'd be in if freakin' Jesus were coming to my house. I would be frantically trying to make sure that everything was absolutely perfect, and I, too, would be very annoyed if someone I thought should be helping abandoned me altogether and went to the party, as it were.

Maybe it seems a little juvenile of Martha to go to Jesus and say, "Can you tell her to help me, please?" instead of talking to Mary directly and saying, "I really need your help for a little bit."

Perhaps there's a lesson in that, too: how often when difficulties in our various relationships arise, do we turn to God in prayer and ask, "Can you please tell her to help me?" or "Can you please help him understand what I'm going through right now?" If you are conflict-averse, like me, that's probably your preferred strategy, rather than confronting the person.

Now, Martha's request frankly doesn't seem all that extraordinary. Really, why should Martha do all the work by herself while Mary's off having a grand time? So I'm always really bothered by Jesus' response: "Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."

What's that about? Mary called dibs on hanging out with Jesus so Martha has to suck it up and do all the work by herself?

Well, let's back up, here. So Martha complains, but first Jesus says to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things." This is a very comforting statement; there is compassion here. Imagine Jesus saying this to you: "You are worried and distracted by many things." How would you respond? I would probably say, "Totally." And Jesus continues, "There is need of only one thing."

This is one of those "lilies of the field" moments, a speech that Jesus is working toward in chapter 12 of the same Gospel; "Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?" Oh...busted.

I think what has troubled me is the language of the NRSV, "Mary has chosen the better part." I'm no Greek scholar (understatement...) so for all I know, Luke's original text is best translated "better." But again, this year I am reading the KJV, which instead renders it, "But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her."

Maybe what Jesus is really saying here is not so much, "Sorry, Martha" but rather, "Stop putzing around in the kitchen and trying to do too many things and come sit by me and listen for a while." Stop being resentful of Mary and realize that she has chosen well: to not worry so much about this that and the other thing and just go and sit quietly at the foot of the Lord. I like this wording, "that good part," because it implies that Martha (and the rest of us) can choose it, too, that those of us who are busy working hard behind the scenes to make sure everything is right and perfect need to trust more that a) that is not the most important thing and b) that our needs will be met, and scurrying around trying to make perfect what God has already made perfect is wasted energy.

I don't know. Maybe that's not the point of this passage, at all. But it's always been one of my least favorite readings, as I had this notion that Jesus was condescending and dismissive of Martha. Now I have an avenue toward understanding it differently.

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