Summary: This is the story of Mary and Martha. What is our duty - to be a Mary or a Martha?
What is Your Duty?
July 22, 2007
For the past couple of years, I have been preoccupied with retirement. If you have spent any time around me at all, you know how I talk about our retirement plans all the time.
I am eight years away from retirement – perhaps eleven – depending on some decisions I yet have to make. The one thing that is honestly worrying me – just ask Christie because we sit in her office and talk about it all the time – is that Toni and I don’t have a place to live. For our entire married life, we have always lived in someone else’s house. So we are facing what so many of our brother and sister clergy face upon retirement – signing our first 30 year mortgage!
We have been shopping for a house or a condo. Do we want to retire in Florida? We don’t know, but perhaps. So we have looked at condos down there in the Fort Myers area. There is a big chunk of me that wants to go somewhere I won’t have to take my snow shovel. Do we want to retire in Fort Wayne? Perhaps. This is, after all, the town in which we were born and raised. So we have been looking at condos here. Do we want to retire in Indianapolis? Perhaps. With our kids scattered over the state; that would be sort of centrally located. So we have been looking at condos on the north side of Indy and up into Carmel and Fishers.
It suddenly occurred to me in the midst of this retirement planning: then what? Many of you have gone through this same thing. You spend your whole adult lifetime working: getting up every day and going to your job. Your day is spent behind a desk, in front of a classroom, standing next to a machine, working in the building trades, or as a mechanic, or in a thousand different other occupations. And then you retire. One day you’re working. The next day you’re not. I’m not sure how that is going to affect me. I haven’t yet answered the question, “What am I going to do when I won’t have to do anything?”
There are some great questions of life, and that is one of them. What am I going to do when I don’t have to do anything? There are some other great questions as well; questions which we can spend the rest of our lives discussing. How about these? Who would you rather have dinner with: Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie, or Mary Kate and Ashley Olson? In a game of survivor, would you bet on O.J. Simpson, Robert Blake, or Phil Spector? Who is Dennis Kucinich and why should we care? What was the greatest achievement in the administration of President Millard Fillmore? Are you a cat person or a dog person?
On a more serious level are these questions. Is the nature of humankind inherently good or inherently evil? Which is better for the society, money or morality? Which contains the most truth, Science or Religion? Is the death penalty an ethical option in a civilized society? Does life have meaning? Or the big question of all time: Does God exist?
There are some big questions contained in the gospels. Remember these. What must I do to inherit eternal life? Who is my neighbor? How are we going to feed all these people? Where are you going? How can we know the way? Why couldn’t we cast out these demons? What is truth? Where have they taken my Master?
The question that confronts us today is not spoken, but nonetheless implied in the Scripture lesson: Is it better to be Mary or Martha?
The story of Mary and Martha occurs in the tenth chapter of Luke immediately following the telling of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem when he stopped off at the home of Mary and Martha. Now, I am not sure exactly who these two sisters were. I doubt that they were the Mary and Martha who were sisters to Lazarus. Their story is told in the Gospel of John which places their home in Bethany, which was just a stone’s throw from Jerusalem. Coming back to the lesson for today, we see that at this point in the journey, Jesus is still in Galilee and remains there until at least chapter 17. So I don’t think these are the sisters of Lazarus.
Some commentators suggest that this Mary was Mary Magdalene, but it seems to me that this is conjecture because I don’t see the evidence for that. Perhaps this was Mary Magdalene, but we can’t be sure. Mary and Martha were common enough names in those days that it would not be inconceivable that there were more than one set of sisters with those names. But in the end, at least to me, the identity of the women in the story is not the important part. What is important is the message that comes from their interaction with Jesus.