Amos 8:1-12; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42
Ordinary 16C; Proper 11
Two phrases stand out in this story of Mary and Martha: “many things” and “one thing.”
Many of us know the story well. Martha is distracted by her many tasks. She is, after all, hosting a dinner in her home. We know that entails preparing food, tending to guests, making sure drinks are offered and refilled and perhaps tidying up quickly while no one is looking. Her sister, Mary, does not participate in the many tasks at hand. Instead she sits at Jesus’ feet — another way of saying she listened to his teaching, sought to soak in the wisdom his offered, took advantage of the proximity and knowledge of this remarkable person. Martha complains to Jesus about this arrangement. Jesus chides her and commends Mary. The moral of the story resounds through the ages: Focus on Jesus, ignore the rest.
But is the story really that simple, clear-cut and obvious? Perhaps. The plain reading might well be just that unambiguous: Focus on Jesus, don’t fret about life’s endless distractions. Not a bad word for those of us living in the 21st century in a place awash with the distraction of many tasks, many things and many clicks, pings and rings. How do we manage to sit at Jesus’ feet, listen, learn, focus on the Word? Can you remember a time when you attended to one thing? Even when studies reveal the ineffectiveness of multitasking, we can’t help ourselves.
So, if we get no farther than the plain reading of this Lukan text this week, we will no doubt do some good. However, what if we go a little deeper? If we can agree that, yes, we should set aside our many tasks and distractions and focus on Jesus and his teachings, where might we go next with this story and with those found in the other two readings?
Last week God showed Amos a plumb line. This week a basket of summer fruit appears — an image that brings forth visions of still life oil paintings and summer picnics, but in this case God declares a much less benign vision. The season of God’s judgment is here. The fruit is ripe, picked and placed in a basket. The people, God says, will be put in their place, too. Why? Because they trample on the needy and bring ruin to the poor of the land. Distracted, perhaps, by greed. Distracted by the lure of wealth and the earthly perks that go along with it, maybe. God’s people lost focus and failed to follow the one needful thing – God’s commandments – and now their distraction will cost them the abundant life God so longs to give them and the poor and needy, too. The time of distraction, of ignoring God’s Word, will soon come to an end and even when they yearn to hear it, sit at the feet of God, listen and learn, they will be unable to do so. A lack of correct focus is costly.
The judgement of Amos enters into conversation, however, with the promise of Colossians. That beautiful “but now” is found in the epistle lesson for this week. That “but now” marks a turning point and a transformation and reminds us that God’s wrath does not endure forever. Estrangement from God and others is replaced with reconciliation through Christ who holds all things together. Gentiles get engrafted. Doers of evil deeds – repentant and forgiven – now do the will of the Lord. Even those utterly distracted by the worst of idols or the most frivolous of tasks can become attentive to the word of God within them and all around them. Sometimes it’s only after the catastrophic absence of the One who most longs to be in relationship with them. Sometimes it’s after a harrowing life experience. Sometimes it’s through an encounter with the undeniable glory, beauty and truth of God — they find themselves now listening, eager to learn, priorities re-ordered.
All three of this Sunday’s texts call us to attention, summon us to awareness and remind us to take care of what truly matters lest we get distracted and ultimately consumed by the many lesser gods beckoning us to follow.
This story from Luke, while about jettisoning tasks (no matter how good or helpful) in order to tend to Jesus, is also a lesson about right worship — because where we focus, how we spend our time, what we expend our energy doing, all reveal who and what we truly worship. If we dig a little deeper, beyond holding up Mary and scolding Martha, we discover ourselves in them both. We see our own tendency to “major in the minors,” neglecting to relish the people right in front of us, the people, if we tend to them, who reveal Christ to us. If we dig a little deeper, sitting with the words, reflecting on the text, we sense our deep hunger for so much more than the food on the table, no matter how well prepared and tasty. We understand in the depth of our being that we need Jesus, the bread of life. And, grace upon grace, he is there, in our home, eager to be with us, no time limit, no cell phone, no distractions.
God asks us, like Amos, what do you see? What is right in front of you? Who do you neglect when you don’t focus on your God? Jesus gently reminds us, like Martha, that so much of what commands our time and attention and energy and angst, doesn’t really require or deserve it. The writer of Colossians encourages us, no less than those early Christians, to rest in Christ, be who we are, live the “but now” of reconciliation and the new ways of behaving that come with it. In other words, worship God alone. The rest will follow. The siren call of distractions will lose its power. The temptation to resent our siblings lessens. The propensity to neglect the needy and exploit the poor give way to seeing in them the face of Jesus Christ — because we’ve sat at his feet, attentively, and after all of that time together, we can’t help but recognize him.
- What does this story from Luke bring up for you? Did you learn the binary of Mary vs. Martha? Is that a fair either/or contrast?
- Do you think about God’s judgment? If so, do those thoughts evoke comfort or fear? How is God’s judgment an expression of God’s love? Or is it?
- Read the Colossians text and make note of the “but now.” What comes before and what comes after? How are we different as a result of Christ’s coming into the world and into our lives?
- How do you spend time tending to Jesus? Sitting at his feet, listening and learning?
- What do you find most distracting? What keeps you from tending to the “one needed thing”?
- What are the tangible expressions of worshipping God and God only?
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