Luke 10:38-42Preached by Ian Lasch
I can’t read our Gospel passage for today without thinking of those times when I’m able to get out of town and go home to visit my parents. My mother in particular has an urge to make sure that my every need is met before she’s able to relax and catch up or visit. Have I eaten? Am I hungry? Do I need something to drink? Do I need to rest after my drive? Would I like to put my feet up? Because she prides herself on her hospitality so greatly, I’ve come to realize that the first half hour or so of being at her house won’t actually involve anything more than being taken care of. We all have that in us, to some extent. We all want to make sure we welcome our guests and visitors. All of which is just to say that Martha’s anxiety and her excitement are understandable. That’s one thing that, in reading today’s Gospel, we mustn’t forget. But even in that most natural of instincts, she’s gently reminded that she is missing the mark. She is called to something different.
Martha was only doing what her society told her that she ought to do. Being hospitable and entertaining her guests is what people at that time, and particularly women at that time, were “supposed” to do. Had you asked her, she may even have considered it her calling. This is so ingrained in her that she’s actually bothered when her sister Mary stops and does nothing in order to sit at the feet of the Master, and listen… In order to simply be with Christ. To bask in his love. Martha doesn’t understand how her sister could so neglect her duties, but Jesus gently corrects Martha. He observes that she is anxious and distracted by many things. She is perturbed. She is mixed up. She has become convinced that what her society tells her she ought to be doing is what is really important. As he so often does, Jesus simplifies things: “There is need of only one thing.” In saying this, he reminds her of something that is a familiar theme throughout the Gospels, and all of scripture: our call to be followers of Christ is not as complicated as we make it, but it is not easy, either. It is not what we expect, and it often involves fighting our own instincts or going against what our culture says is right.
While hospitality may not hold the importance to our society that it once did, it’s still not hard to see the similarities between Martha’s time and our own. We are all familiar with expectations of how we ought to behave in our everyday lives. We are assailed on all sides and at all times by messages from our culture about what it is that’s really important. Do what feels right. Take what you want. Keep up with the Joneses. Look out for number one. But the Gospel tells us that even in our own universe the best we can hope for is being number two. We are called to follow Christ, and following means that he comes before us.
This is simpler than we think. Just last week we heard in Luke’s Gospel that all we have to do is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our strength, and with all our mind. Not keep ourselves busy doing things, or wait upon him, or earn his love. Just love him with all that we are. But following Christ is also harder than we think. Because loving him that much means literally giving our all to him. It means loving him even more than we want that new car, new house, or new job. It means loving him more than we love all the things that we have now, and all the things that we wish we had. It means letting go of who we are in order to be the people and the disciples that he wants us to be.
That kind of love for God and desire to follow him is truly transformational. It’s only by loving him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength that we’re able to ignore the urgings of our culture to acquire more, to work harder, and to look out for ourselves. In loving God enough to set ourselves aside, we can truly begin to love our neighbors as ourselves. This simple, freeing love is important enough that Jesus himself said that there was need of only this one thing.