Blogging Towards Sunday, July 18, 2010
We read the scriptures as a community each week as a practice that shapes us and sends us; a big story that frames our way of seeing, being and believing. What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? What does that look like? This week's gospel lesson, as always, offers direction. Clear, concise, to the point, but also a bit vague, we often tend to oversimplify it in our reading. Mary is the good one. Martha is wrong. She should have listened to the words of Jesus instead of working so hard. A black and white answer for life that is more grey than two-tone.
Martha is doing what is required, preparing and offering hospitality, fitting of her guest - paramount in the cultural context both then and still today, of the Middle East. Doesn't Jesus criticize the Pharisee who hosts him yet doesn't wash his feet, leaving the task to the tears of the mysterious woman [Luke 7]? Doesn't Jesus himself use this task of hospitality (washing the feet of a guest) as a pedagogical experience to show the disciples what it means to serve one another [John 13]? While we do need to first receive the gospel, it is most often by our actions, presence, relationships - and hospitality - that we reflect what we have received. So it can't simply be an existential choice of being like Mary or being like Martha.
Paul writes to the ancient church of Collosae in present day Turkey. A community divided over spiritual practice: do you non-Jewish followers of Jesus have to first practice Jewish faith customs before being acceptable people of the Jesus way? Paul's answer is no. Jesus is bigger than everything: cultures, countries and contexts. His life, death and resurrection transform the universe - not in a distant apocalyptic moment, but already here and now. In him all is changed: Jew and Greek, male and female, slave and free - all are one in Christ. The promise he speaks of, the hope of glory, a mysterious paradox is that Christ is in us because we are in Christ. The one who is the visible image of the invisible God comes to us that we might be in him with God. A deeper fleshing out of the promise in the story of discipleship in this event in the home of Mary and Martha; discipleship means reflecting the gospel in our lives, making Christ present in all we say, do and in our relationships. It's less a question of oppositional doing either this or that, than a radically life-transforming answer of both and. Christ isn't imprisoned in our DNA, our property, making us superior to others; rather we are invited to go into the world and towards each other, recognizing that Christ makes all possible, that it's not what we've earned, but a grace-full gift freely given.
I've been living out of the United States for the past year. Returning home, I flabbergasted by the division that has come to reign over not just our political system and re-enthused culture wars, but also in our churches. We are consumed by who is the most pure in terms of their political affirmations. We divide ourselves by invoking cultural superiority, wether it be about race, history, class, or religious doctrines. We've allowed the church to become a litmus tests of "right" ways of believing and living out that faith. We are called in Christ to reflect the hope announced by Paul: the invisible God becomes visible in Christ, close to us, for us: a grace that invites us to deeper and wider ways of living with and for one another. Rather than focusing on the actions and presence of others, we're challenged to accept the grace that somehow Christ is made present in the world through us. How does that shape us, our decisions, our actions, our choices: our hospitality?