Are You a Mary or a Martha?

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July 17, 2022

To protect and serve. That is the motto of the Los Angeles Police Department. In many situations we can agree that it does not do what it says. I grew up in Los Angeles, especially during the riots of 1992 that followed the outrage of seeing the footage of Rodney King’s irrational punishment and the lack of disciple the officers in question received. The cry heard from many at the time burned into my memory that says, “no justice, no peace.” The events that led to the uprising and the chaos that proceeded from the police there were not good examples of what it means to protect and serve. In bringing this up it is not my intention to bash the police. Pun intended. My intention in bringing that up is only to highlight that not all things can be taken at face value.

To protect and serve, these are the pillars of hospitality. In Greco-Roman culture, hospitium, is the term used that describes hospitality as the divine right of the guest and the divine duty of a host which not only afforded a guest to be served and have shelter, but to also have protection. Early English law also provides rules for hospitality under another’s roof that include protection and refuge. For those familiar with the fantasy series Game of Thrones, if you share your salt and bread with a guest, they are granted safety while they are in your home and in your care. There are many ways of making a guest welcome and as we can see historically, and even through fiction, those rules carry over. For the most part, in our context when a guest comes to our home, the implication is that they have protection, especially when any and everyone is quick to file a law suit these days. However, regarding hospitality, the portion that includes service, varies.

Our Gospel today looks at welcome, our Gospel today looks at hospitality. Jesus visits with Martha and Mary. Biblical scholarship has agreed that this is the Martha and Mary of Bethany, siblings of Jesus’ friend Lazarus, making them all chummy. Despite this, we are still in the 10th chapter of Luke. The chapter opens with Jesus sending out the 72 to help prepare people for his arrival and ministry. He tells them, carry no purse, bag, or sandals, because they will have everything they need. And everything they need will be taken care of through hospitality in the homes that they will visit. Jesus says, “…Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if a person of peace is there, your peace will rest on that person, but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide…” Jesus continues and gives warning to those houses that do not provide welcome to his messengers indicating that their fate will eventually experience dire consequences.

Clearly hospitality is at the forefront of what we have today. Even our first reading shows us another version of the story of Abraham and Sarah being blessed with a child even though there was no way this would ever be possible. Both Sarah and Abraham, are as the scripture says, “…old and advanced in age…” This blessing was bestowed on them as they provided excellent hospitality to three individuals. Their identity is not revealed but all evidence and legend associate these guests with the Lord. We see here different from our Gospel more of the specifics regarding how guests were granted welcome. Yeast was measured for each to make bread, water brought to wash their feet, greetings, salutations, beef and milk. Because they provided such hospitality to, the Lord, they received a blessing, the beginning of one of the greatest covenants that says, “…Sarah shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.” Our ancestral line is drawn back to this, the children of Abraham thus became numerous as the stars in the sky.

Based on everything we have heard, the question may arise, are you a Mary or a Martha? Similar to the magazine articles you may find at the checkout stand or the click bait found online that tries to lure you into a website, as if we have to be involved in another “us versus them” scenario. There is Mary who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened and Martha who had many tasks who came to him and put Mary on blast for not helping. If you recall, I started earlier by saying we can’t take things at face value. There is peace in this home, and the guest is being served. The tenants of hospitality are not broken nor are they in question. However, we must not fall victim to having to choose or more importantly, pit these women against each other. I would like to say in the past, but it happens even now, where passages like this are used to provide fodder for suggested gender roles, or that women should not be active and quiet as they sit at a mans feet. And even if we are not that extreme, we may still look at this and conclude that Mary is displaying the behavior we should be modeling because Jesus defends her. Let’s defend Martha for a bit. First off, why was she not invited to join in. Why did Jesus not say, “Martha come sit for a second.” Also, in what context does a host complain to a guest about something another host should be doing unless they were friends and this was a casual dialogue between buddies. If it were that serious, wouldn’t Martha talk directly to Mary instead and ask her for help? What we see is Martha being a tattle tale, and we all know, no one likes a tattle tale. Martha is actually awesome and we need to remember that. When her brother dies, she is the one that tells Jesus he should have been there. Also, she is legendary as the feast of St. Martha also celebrates the story of how she slayed a dragon. Its not all about St. George. Legend has it she encountered the creature near the bank of a river and compelled it to be still while she tied it up with her girdle so it would be immobile, and folks would kill it. Again, this is a legend, and the way this creature is described fits the description of a crocodile that may have gotten loose in route to a delivery.

Not all things should be taken at face value. One of the most flagrant comparisons to come out of the Mary and Martha useless identification debate would have some describe Mary as the right kind of Christian. If that sounds wrong then I agree, because I feel Christianity is as diverse as it is complex. It bothers me to no end when I hear that or even more recently when the Supreme Court of the United States overturned the historical landmark case of Roe vs. Wade and seeing the response of those who disagreed saying that this action was an exercise of “Christian Law.” Now, I may not be the smartest man, but I do know that the both the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and what I deem to be Christian Law comes from our commandment to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Not all things should be taken at face value. Both Mary and Martha are wonderful women and Jesus has been with them on many occasions so they must be doing something right. So let us go forward without putting these two women in a category. Let us see they are not against one another, nor are they models for what some would call proper behavior. Let us not get between family and friends and remember to always provide welcome that includes service and refuge to all who enter our doors. Amen.