A familiar family spat or something a bit deeper?
We have as ever, to be very careful when we read the gospel because it is easy to lose sight of the vital message which rests at its heart: the golden rule of love of God, and love of neighbour, as shown to us by Jesus Christ. This message is central to all we do, as it demands of us an offering of self without counting any of the cost.
If you read what the lectionary offers as the opening to the Gospel reading this week, this is what you get: Jesus came to a village. Now that’s fine as it stands, but it doesn’t really convey the context of what is actually taking place. For all we know it could just be a literary technique used by Luke, a stylistic phrase perhaps to tell us that Jesus happened upon this particular village without any purpose or point. But we know that is unlikely, the gospels are not lazy with their words, indeed every word of the gospel is there for a reason, and understanding that can illuminate what we may otherwise have considered to be just a rather mundane expression.
So cast your mind back to last week’s gospel and the story of the Good Samaritan. You’ll remember how it concluded with Jesus telling the lawyer: Go, and do the same yourself, and that’s where the passage ends. But, surprise surprise, the very next verse of the gospel (which is this weeks offering) is: As they were going on their journey, he entered into a certain village. Sadly this has been reduced in the lectionary to Jesus came to a village and so we miss the intention of Luke, who by using that same word (go, going) looks to associate and link the whole of what follows, with what went before. In effect we are being instructed to take the message learnt from story of the Good Samaritan into the heart of the story about Martha and Mary, and to discover something important from it about ourselves, our neighbour and our family.
So let’s look and listen to what the story says and see if we can highlight any clues as to what we are asked to understand. Firstly remember the lawyer’s question to Jesus, what must I do to inherit eternal life?
Love God and love your neighbour, replies Jesus, and the lawyer then asks who is my neighbour?
As is so often the case, we can miss the blindingly obvious in that the most precious relationships we have are those we make with our family, and that we can so often take these for granted and fail to see how careless and inconsiderate we can be, without even realising it. Martha is annoyed with Mary alright, and our sympathies are with her – she’s doing all the work whilst Mary gets away with doing nothing. Oh dear, stand by for that familiar refrain – its not fair! Then Jesus seems to get that blame too for not telling Mary to help her sister. It’s all getting a bit heated. But then Jesus’ response to Martha seems to be a bit unfair too, as he appears to side with Mary by telling Martha that she’s worrying over things that are not needed. Ouch!
But remember the question – what must I do to inherit eternal life? In other words how is my faith to be applied to my relationships? I think this is the point which Jesus is teaching us. Love of neighbour means love of God, and love of God means love of neighbour. The two are inseparable. It is easy for us to get ourselves immersed and entangled with the affairs of the world and simply forget the affairs of God. We can become so wound up with the way of the world that the spiritual side of our lives begins to wane and we neglect our prayer life as no longer important or relevant.
So Jesus’ gentle prompt to Martha reminds us that our goal is to seek God in the beauty of who we are and in what we mean to each other, so that through our love of God and neighbour we can share in that beauty which leads us, through our relationship with Christ, to life eternal in all its glory.