Summary: PENTECOST 7, YEAR C - Martha and Mary, who’s side do we take? Which one is right in her behavior? Read and find out.
This week Rosemary attended an Interim Ministry Conference at Trinity Conference Center in West Cornwall Connecticut. When she told some of her colleques that she would be going to the conference, the first comment out of their mouth was not, “the training is excellent”, but “the food there is out of this world”. And it is, while there she had roast leg of lamb with grilled vegetables, swordfish with onion confit, eggplant parmagean with gorgozola polenta, to name just a few. And she said, the desserts could give you a heart attack just by smelling them. The food truly was outstanding. But the strange thing is that after that experience Rosemary began to wonder if the conference center really want anyone to come and try them out. As she drove down route 128 on Monday morning, she came into West Cornwall, and although the directions said take a left, there was no sign in town identifying which left to take, the one by the railroad station or the one by the bridge. 100 feet down the correct road was a sign saying dead end. Beyond that was a sign that said “turn around here”. After that was a sign that said “private property, do not enter.” Around the bend was the gated entrance to the center with a little sign on the side, white lettering on a white background saying “Trinity Conference Center”. Once she was on the grounds there were no signs for the administration building, or the residents, or the meeting center. There were no signs welcoming the Interim Ministry Network, and no one at the reception desk. No one came to greet her group until they were one hour into their program, and all they told them were “Don’t smoke in the buildings, and don’t go into the kitchen looking for someone to help you. Wait until you find someone on the grounds.” In conclusion Rosemary said, you know, the food was great, but they have a lot to learn about hospitality.
Hospitality really is important to us, isn’t it. It’s is a hallmark of good etiquette and a sign of graciousness. The story Luke tells of Mary and Martha is a story about hospitality. It’s also a controversial story which angers some people and confuses others, especially when they identify with one sister over that of the other, when they take the side of either Mary or of Martha. Some people look at the story from Martha’s point of view. They say that Mary let Martha down: that Mary should have helped Martha serve Jesus and his disciples, that she should of done her share of the work, that she should have been a better hostess. If only Mary had been more like Martha more like...like a woman from the South. Southern women, says Rev. Mary Anderson, are great Marthas and proud of it. Those who have refined southern hospitality never sit, they hover. Many times the hostess will continue to cook all through the meal. When does the hostess eat? This is one of the South’s greatest mysteries. The hostess keeps working, huffing around the table, a trickle of perspiration running past the string of pearls on her neck. She misses all dinner conversation, all sharing of feelings and information, and gives herself totally to serving. Those who sympathize with Martha say that if we take Jesus’ rebuke of her seriously, if we are to believe that Mary did the right thing that she chose the better part and that Martha should have sat down with Mary and listened to the master, then who would have made and served the food? Who in the world would have done the work? a work that itself was an expression of love?
Martha’s supporters assert that Mary is unfair to Martha, and that Jesus really doesn’t help the situation very much by telling Martha that she is too anxious and that Mary has chosen the better part. Other people of course look at the story from Mary’s point view. They say that Mary did the right thing when she chose to sit by Jesus and learn from him, that Jesus is, after all, the Lord and that Jesus himself confirms this when he tells Martha that Mary has chosen "the better part". Some of Mary’s supporters then go on and ask the question "what business did Martha have asking Jesus to chastise Mary and tell her what to do...?" I don’t think there is any of us here today who doubts that what Mary chose to do when Jesus came to her house was a good thing that she chose a good portion. So should Martha have been more like Mary, more like..like the woman who greets the guests unflustered at the door with the table already set, the kitchen spotless. A hostess who sits, talks, laughs and eats the appetizers with her guests. Who excuses herself, goes to the kitchen, and then quickly returns with food that’s already prepared and ready to eat. At dinner, she remains around the table, getting to know the guests, asking about their lives, sharing her own thoughts and feelings. Serving or sitting - Laboring or listening, both are forms of hospitality. What then, was wrong with Martha’s choice? Did not Martha honour the Lord by her response to his presence? Did she not show love towards him by serving him? As the commentator John Lewis writes "In the concrete situation in which Martha found herself, the attempted to answer and please her Lord."