Pentecost +6C - Jesus the host
Now as [Jesus and his disciples] went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
A friend of mine and I were comparing notes this past week, about how we had hit a new stage of adulthood: the stage where you clean the house top to bottom before leaving on vacation. As a kid, it seemed so silly, watching my parents fuss to tidy up before we were, you know, LEAVING THE HOUSE for a week. As an adult, though, I’ve changed my tune.
I see some of you nodding out there, like you totally get me.
Let’s take a little poll here:
- How many of you have ever cleaned your house top to bottom before leaving on vacation? How many of you have ever done this because you didn’t want the dog-sitter to see the clutter?
- How many of you have ever cleaned your house top to bottom for guests who have told you outright that you don’t have to tidy up for them?
- How many of you have ever been so busy preparing a meal for guests that you end the evening feeling like you never really saw your guests?
Let’s try some harder questions (you don’t have to raise your hands for these!)
- How many of you have ever had so many demands put on your time or energy that you’ve had to say “no” to important things in order to say “yes” to other important things?
- How many of you have ever felt so anxious or overwhelmed by the needs of the world that you can’t settle yourself down enough for rest, contemplation, or devotion?
- How many of you have ever been so consumed by the needs of your own life that you haven’t had capacity to worship or pray or read scripture?
Let’s try one more round.
- How many of you have ever felt guilty or been made to feel guilty for taking time to reflect, pray, or meditate?
- How many of you have ever resented someone else for taking time away to rest, especially when you want or need their help?
- How many of you have ever wondered if you are worthy to sit at Jesus’s feet, just as you are?
If you found yourself in any of these questions, then you also find yourself in today’s gospel reading, this familiar and tricky story of Martha and Mary, entertaining Jesus as a houseguest.
This story is unexpectedly difficult to deal with. On first glance, it seems like a competition, where Mary wins and Martha loses. It looks like Jesus is setting up a conflict between the life of ministry and the life of contemplation. We feel like the story wants us to praise Mary, but in our hearts, we also really want to defend Martha. Not many of us, I suspect, identify immediately with Mary.
This is a story that sees us. And probably makes us squirm.
As we try to piece together what it looks like to be a disciple, as we think about what we’ve been reading in Luke’s gospel this summer so far, it would be hard for us to say whether being a disciple looks more like doing or more like being.
Jesus has preached and fed massive crowds. Jesus has healed people. Jesus has also gone off by himself to deserted places to pray. Jesus has instructed would-be followers not to look back or be distracted by other things, but to focus solely on the work of the kingdom of God. He has taught parables about how worry will consume you if you let it. He has praised the hospitality of those who welcome traveling disciples into their homes. He has taught a young lawyer that what it means to love your neighbor is to do the work of mercy, and has told us, “Go and do likewise.”
We catch bits and pieces of all of these themes in today’s story, don’t we? Questions of when to work and when to rest, when to serve and when to pray, when to fuss and when to let go?
This is why we can’t read today’s story of Mary and Martha as a definitive answer about what a disciple should look like. It is a story that asks us more questions than it answers. It is a story that invites us to think about the balance of work and rest in our own lives, and the balance of service and devotion in our lives of faith.
And, if we want to press things a little bit, I’d say that today’s story isn’t actually a story about Mary and Martha at all.
It is a story about Jesus.
A story about how when Jesus shows up, Jesus is always the host. A story about how Jesus is always the one showing hospitality and making space and inviting us. A story about how when Jesus is sitting in our living room, we would do well to set down the dishrag and go visit with him a while.
This is what is so hard for Martha and for us. It’s not that Martha doesn’t care about Jesus. But Jesus, for her, is one concern among many. One important thing among many important things.
Jesus, when he is sitting on our couch, invites us to let him be the only important thing.
Because Jesus has words for us that we need to hear: You are forgiven. You are made righteous. You are loved. You will be made new. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your enemies. Fear and death have no power over you. I give you life and life abundant. This is not the end.
There is no amount of fretting and fussing that Jesus requires of Martha or of Mary or of us. Remember, if you will, that entertaining Jesus as a houseguest requires little more than a stable in the middle of the night, or a few palm branches plucked from the side of the road.
We are worried and distracted by so many things in the rest of our lives, that it is hard to believe that Jesus is cool with the clutter on the counter and that Jesus doesn’t care if you’ve washed your hair, and that Jesus wants nothing more than simply to sit with you, and teach you everything he knows, and host you at his feet, and at a table of simple provisions, just some bread and some wine.
And so we gather in worship and we pause for devotion and prayer because we need to hear, again and again, the sacred words that form us and shape us; to eat the sacred meal that nourishes us and sends us.
We come here to encounter Jesus in the words we read, to meet God, to have a deep breath of the Holy Spirit. We come here, in other words, because we, too, need to sit at the feet of Christ, and bask in the presence of the holy, and to hear again the words that remind us of who we have been created to be, and words of hope for our world, and words that tell us stories of how God loves us and how God is for us and not against us.
We come, because Jesus has invited us. Just as we are.
We don’t have to clean up first. We don’t have to have a meal prepared. We don’t have to have the best house on the block. We don’t have to be the hostess with the mostest.
Because Jesus, wherever we meet him, is always the host. With the most. And that “most” is the very presence of the living God, right here, loving you, holding you, blessing you, giving you the hope, the life, and the rest that your soul so deeply longs for.
Come, won’t you? And sit. Jesus is inviting you.