Rev. Heather Blais
In today’s gospel lesson Jesus offers us an important lesson about distractions. In the story we witness Jesus and his disciples arriving in a village as they make their way toward Jerusalem. Since this story is in all four of the canonical gospels, we know that this village is actually Bethany, just outside Jerusalem. These other versions of the story tell us that Mary and Martha are actually Lazarus’ sisters, and that these women are not strangers to Jesus. In fact, they are female disciples that Jesus loves like family.
It’s clear that Martha has a gift for hospitality. She welcomes Jesus and his motley crew into her home. She is doing what any good host does when you welcome guests--you ensure there is a nice spot to take your sandals off and relax, that there is plenty of food and drink to serve, and space for good conversation. She is doing the invisible and thankless work that goes with keeping house, being a good host, and being a caretaker.
Martha is acutely aware that her sister has gone off to sit with the company and she’s been left alone to handle the work. When Martha brings her guests refreshments, she doesn’t give Mary a sisterly look, make passive aggressive comments, or even directly ask her for help. Instead, she puts her guest, who granted is like a brother, on the spot and asks, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me" (Luke 10:40).
Jesus answers her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things…” (Luke 10:41). Some believe that “Martha, Martha” is a criticism of her behavior. I tend to see it as something else. A wake up call, an invitation. I imagine Jesus is talking to Martha as a parent might speak to their child with attention deficit disorder, with abundant love and a touch of exasperation.
The child is in their cloud focused on their agenda, and completely oblivious to you speaking to them. “Martha, Martha” is Jesus trying to get Martha’s attention. The way a parent would repeat their child's name when they want their child to focus on their voice for a moment, to actually hear what the parent has to say. The parent ensures there is eye contact, and sometimes this might mean holding the child’s cheeks gently with their hands to ensure they are looking face to face. The parent might be trying to get their child to simply brush their teeth in the morning, yet Jesus is offering all of us a lesson on our own distractions.
Jesus might as well be saying, "Heather, Heather; David, David; Sharon, Sharon; Rich, Rich; you are worried and distracted by many things… (Luke 10:41). Add your own name in, as Jesus is talking to each of us. Because in truth we are all easily distracted by many things.
We are distracted by emails, text messages, video games, silly apps, bills, phone calls, newspapers, housework, to do lists, meetings, lawn work, our jobs, our volunteer work, and by the onslaught of constant news and advertisements telling us how awful the world is and what we can buy to make ourselves feel better.
Some of our nations’ elected officials distract us on twitter, fox, and cnn with their arguments, fear mongering, and hate speech that is used to attack anyone that is different, but particularly people who are brown and black, people who have come to this county to make a better life--by legal and non legal means. Their banter and freedom to use such hateful rhetoric not only gives permission for any and everyone to do the same, including our children, but distracts us from their real goal of white nationalism. I imagine four hundred years ago when white European settlers came to America, they too were distracted, by the freedom of this new opportunity, by the beauty of this new world, by the harsh requirements it took to start a new life. They were too distracted to notice they had actually taken this land from those who were here long before them.
The examples of distraction within our individual lives, communities, and our history are endless. Which is why the second part of what Jesus says to Martha matters so much.
"Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her" (Luke 10:41-42).
“Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her" (Luke 10:42)
I am quite positive Mary also was distracted from time to time, because we all are easily distracted. It’s part of being human. Yet in this particular moment, in this particular story, she sat at Jesus feet and listened. She showed up and had an open heart and mind. She practiced being present. She chose being in relationship over her long to do list. We are invited to do the same.
And notice what Jesus says, when we practice being present in our relationships, that peace, joy, and a sense of constancy will not be taken away from us. It will give us the strength to face the truth underneath our distractions. Maybe we scroll endlessly through our facebook newsfeed because we are lonely. Maybe we use apps and video games because we are bored and unsure of how our gifts could possibly be used to make this world better. Maybe we turn off the news because we can’t take it anymore.
Yet we are here today, in this absurd heat not because we thought it would be fun to sweat it out in uncomfortable pews. We are here today, together because we know being in relationship matters. That we need one another and our God to keep us from getting too distracted. That we need to be in relationship with one another, to trust in the knowledge that when we stand together with the love of our God this world can be made a better place. It’s not just idealism.
When we choose love, we are fighting against the distractions in our lives and in this world, which harm us and harm our neighbors. As we head back into the agonizing heat today, I invite you to ponder with me:
-What is distracting you?
-What is distracting our community?
-What is distracting our world?
-How might you practice being present today?
-Who in your life really needs you to be more present?
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