Reflections for Sermon writing on Luke 10: 25-42 (1st Sunday in Lent)
As the pandemic continues to radically change our worldview – simultaneously giving us a global perspective while locking us into a local bubble – it is time again to think of that always important question: who is my neighbor?
I love that the Narrative lectionary does not let us unbind our beloved story of the Good Samaritan from its equally-important-and-often-misinterpreted story of Mary and Martha. The writer of Luke tells these stories in tandem to give us a greater comprehension of discipleship (possibly using the classical Greek literature format of a Chaismus?). We need to consider these stories in context to each other.
So, the first story: the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus uses this parable to answer the question of “who is my neighbor?” and comes up with the answer that the one who shows compassion is the neighbor. It is always interesting to challenge listeners to find themselves in the story – not as the victim perhaps, but as one of the people who walks past? There are stark comparisons to be made when we start to identify the victim as Syrian/Yemen/Palestinian refugees, or elderly COVID patients, or East Asian sex-trafficked victims. These are the real-time scenarios of 2021. Being a neighbor is hard work, especially in a globalized world. You could write a full sermon just unpacking these issues.
But it is more interesting to me to move onto the Mary/Martha, and hold this story in tension with he parable. First, let’s agree to not proof-text these two women into submissive “women” roles that fit our 21st century patriarchy. The traditional reading of Martha as a hard-working-in-the kitchen servant contrasted by Mary’s passively-sitting-to-listen repose does this story no justice. When we understand “sitting at the feet” of Jesus as a commonly used phrase in Greek culture that identifies someone as a student or a disciple of a teacher, then we understand Mary as a disciple, not as a passive listener. And when Martha complains that Mary “has left her” it is using the same Greek word (kataleipo) that is used for the call of Levi (Luke 5: 28) and the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:4). If you read the scriptures closely, there is no indicators that Mary is actually in the house with Martha and Jesus. And so, a truer interpretation of this scripture might be juxtaposing Martha, as a servant showing hospitality to Jesus and his disciples, to Mary, a woman who has taken up the ministry of Jesus in the world. (Can you challenge your churches to think about internal hospitality vs. a missionary mindset that leaves the church building to preach the Gospel?)
For me, this understanding of the Mary/Martha story enriches the story of the Good Samaritan. Hospitality was valued immeasurably in Ancient Biblical times. And so, for Jesus to choose Mary’s discipleship over Martha’s hospitality is truly a radical stance indeed. And when we look at the Mary/Martha story as the supplement to the parable (just in case you didn’t get it the first time) then the outward focus on loving neighbor is even more striking. There is a strong message here that following Jesus means being oriented towards the other, the neighbor, the world.
Back to 2021: and again, who is my neighbor? This seems like a time to stop worrying about returning to buildings post-COVID, to stop wondering about coffee hour rules, or building renovations; and be reminded that the true ministry of Jesus is in the world instead. Let us all strive to “choose the better part” and focus our church’s future there.
Rev. Cathy M. Kolwey is a writer, artist, pastor, and chaplain who lives and works in the Twin Cities Metro of Minnesota. She has worked at the intersection of theology and the arts since 2001, and currently blogs at http://www.cmkolwey.com