July17, 2022

6th Sunday after Pentecost – Byron Tindall

We have good examples of the rule of hospitality from ancient Israel in two of the lessons appointed for today.

The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, edited by George Buttrick, defines the rule this way. “The main practices stem from nomadic life when public inns were a rarity and every stranger a potential enemy. Hospitality was discharged more from fear and for protection than from generosity…. Moreover, the host never knew when he himself would be dependent on others. The guest was treated with respect and honor and was provided with provender for his animals, water for his feet, rest and a sumptuous feast. He enjoyed protection, even if he were an enemy, for three days and 36 hours after eating with the host…”

The lesson from Genesis concerning Abraham is a perfect example of this tradition. This incident in the life of Abraham raises at least one question for me. Why didn’t Abraham realize the importance of the three visitors when they suddenly appeared near him at the entrance of his tent? After all, he would have seen them approaching the tent long before they were near him. Abraham simply didn’t recognize who the messengers were.

This visit of Jesus to Mary and Martha is reported only in Luke’s Gospel. Luke does not name the village, but the author of the Gospel According to Saint John said that Mary and Martha were residents of Bethany. Was this the first time Jesus visited Mary and Martha in Martha’s home? We don’t know. If it were the first time, I rather imagine that they had heard of their visitor. If it happened to be a subsequent visit, the sisters would have been honored to have him in their home.

Regardless of whether or not it was the first time Jesus dropped in to see them, they, especially Martha, as mistress of the house, would have felt obligated to treat Jesus with the respect he was due as a visitor, even though by this time, inns were available. Martha was duty-bound to provide a meal for her visitor or visitors.

According to Luke, the event took place shortly after Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan in response to a question from a lawyer. The disciples were with Jesus at the time, and they accompanied him on his way.

Luke switches to the singular when he reported that Martha welcomed him into her home. What about the disciples? Where did they go? At any rate, Luke wrote that Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.” To whom was Jesus speaking? I seriously doubt that it was just to Mary.

At any rate, Martha was busy preparing a festive meal. Was she getting ready to serve three people? Were 10 to 15 expected to enjoy the meal? We simply don’t know.

About this time, Martha, feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the task at hand, went in to complain to Jesus about the lack of assistance from Mary.

“Tell her to get her lazy self in here and help me,” Martha seems to have been feeling. “Why am I being left with all the preparation and work?”

Jesus attempted to calm Martha down by telling her she was, as we might say today, sweating the small stuff.

As important as it was for Martha to be a good and generous hostess, Mary, Jesus told Martha, has chosen what is far more important. In this instance, Mary chose to listen to the Incarnate God rather than busy herself with helping prepare a meal for such an important guest. Mary and Martha very well may not have known who Jesus actually was.

We humans tend to become, or at least attempt to become, what humanity deems to be important.

Consider how much money Madison Avenue has spent this century alone attempting to influence the American public as to what’s important. The biggest and fastest cars make a macho man. The hour-glass figure and the latest fashions are what’s important for the American female. Unless you have the latest electronic gadgets from the multi-billion-dollar companies, you’re a living dinosaur.

The quest for success in whatever the chosen profession happens to be is also thrust upon us from many sources at an early age. The road to success is the most important thing in an adult’s life, according to the mores of contemporary society. No matter how you travel that road, no matter how many of your fellow human beings you destroy in the process, the important thing is to reach the pinnacle of your chosen profession, some seem to think.

Then there’s the thirst for power. Obtain it no matter the cost, no matter who gets hurt or destroyed in the process. And then you can thumb your nose at whomever you wish with impunity.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not against the successful businessperson who has arrived at that position so long as that person keeps in mind who it is we are supposed to be following.

Martha had her chance to listen and learn from Jesus, but she chose to follow what convention told her was important. I think she made a bad choice. Mary ignored Martha’s need for help, as important as that need was at the time. Mary made the correct choice under the circumstances, in my opinion.

We are all faced with making choices throughout our lives. Sometimes, we make the good choice. At other times, we move off in the wrong direction.

The exchange between Jesus and the lawyer in the lesson from Saint Luke’s Gospel is full of ways to keep in mind when we are forced to make choices.

“Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’”

The prophet Micah had some pretty good advice as well.

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Abraham didn’t not recognize who it was that was speaking to him. If we listen to these three pieces of scripture taken from Genesis, Micah and Luke and let them influence our decision making, we too, like Mary, will have “chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away….”