A Gospel Reflection on Luke 10:38-42 for Proper 11C
One of the words that best summarises Jesus’ message of God’s Reign is “hospitality”. In Luke’s Gospel this facet of Jesus’ message is strongly depicted, as we have seen over the last few weeks in the Lectionary. In keeping with Luke’s Jubilee vision of Jesus’ mission in the scene in the synagogue in Chapter Four, Luke continually shows Jesus teaching hospitality, accepting hospitality, or giving hospitality to others. In the narrative which leads up to the scene in Martha and Mary’s house, we have seen Jesus calling his followers to welcome children as the greatest in God’s Reign, we have witnessed him telling his disciples not to interfere with someone who was using Jesus’ name to drive out demons, but to accept this person as being “for” them even though he wasn’t part of Jesus’ group, and we have watched as the seventy two were sent out to preach the Gospel through accepting the hospitality of others.
But, now, in a simple, domestic scene, Luke demonstrates the radical hospitality of God’s Reign. As Jesus enjoys the hospitality of Mary and Martha, Martha ensures that she fulfills all the social requirements for hospitality. She leaves the men to discuss the Torah, and she goes about the work of preparing the meal, making sure she is a good hostess, and that her guests are made to feel comfortable, welcomed and well cared for. Mary, on the other hand, ignores all of the social conventions and takes her place at Jesus’ feet, claiming for herself the position of a disciple. Needless to say, Martha is upset, and asks Jesus to support her quest to get her sister to play her part in providing hospitality to their guests. But, in what may feel like an unkind response, Jesus gently chides her and supports Mary’s actions.
The truth is that the primary hospitality at work in this scene is not that of Martha, but that of Jesus. The Reign of God is a radically new way of ordering society, and a radically new way of being that removes society’s divisions and hierarchies, and creates a community of subversive equality and acceptance. By sitting among the men at Jesus’ feet, Mary was declaring that she believed in Jesus’ message. She now knew that she was welcome to share in the conversation. She could add her voice to the discussion (which in most Jewish circles would have been scandalous – women were usually not permitted to learn or discuss the weighty matters of the Law). She could be a disciple, joining the others in proclaiming the message of God’s Reign – and so she also needed to learn. The gathering may have been in her home, but the true hospitality was Jesus’ welcome of the women as equal participants in God’s Reign. It was God’s hospitality that was the “better part” and Mary had recognised it and responded with eager abandon. Martha, in her concern to fulfill the social requirements, had not given herself the permission or the freedom to believe that she could have a different role, or a different life.
How often don’t we make the same mistake? Thinking that we know what is required, we get to work to fulfill what we believe is expected of us, and we easily become frustrated by those who refuse to do their duty as we do. Yet, if we were really to believe in the radical hospitality of God’s Reign, perhaps we could be less hard on ourselves, and more open and accepting of those who demonstrate a shocking sense of entitlement to God’s grace and welcome. Perhaps, like Mary, we could realise that sitting down at Jesus’ feet is actually the best way to step up into a new experience of God’s amazing grace.