Sunday, July 18, 2010

On choosing the better part

Artist: Johannes Vermeer

The gospel reading for today is the one about Mary and Martha who are sisters. Mary, as you remember, is sitting at the feet of Jesus and Martha complains about being left to do all the chores without Mary's help. The epistle reading is an exalted expression of praise regarding the nature of Christ which concludes by proclaiming the mystery that Christ is actually in us.

Here's a little passage from a sermon I preached on these lessons a few years ago:
I’m amazed at how many church people I’ve heard over the years brag about being a “Martha” and how many sermons I’ve heard on this passage which were centered on figuring out some way to vindicate Martha. Usually these pronouncements involve an analysis of the relative merits of active work and contemplation. And usually they end up with the conventionally wise conclusion that a balance between the two is really the better part, completely ignoring what Jesus actually said. Well, the balance solution does sound like a pretty good idea – if you’re sure of how to do it. But who is? Hey, if you’re proud of being a Martha, are you sure you’re sitting at the feet of Jesus enough? And if you’re proud of being a Mary, are you sure you’re doing enough active work? How can you be sure? So maybe this gospel isn’t about a judgment between prayer and action at all. What really is that “one thing needful” Jesus talked about? “Christ in you, the hope of Glory” says Paul, who has learned through painful experience that he cannot get the rules right, that only Christ can present him holy and blameless and irreproachable.

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