The Rev. Peter M. Carey
Sermon – 21 July 2013 ~ Present Moment; Wonderful Moment
St. Paul’s Memorial Church, Charlottesville, VA
While reading today’s gospel, it may be tempting to take from it the lesson that Jesus is prioritizing the contemplative life over the active life. After all, he states that Mary has chosen the better way, the better part, rather than Martha, who was working to provide food and hospitality.
However, this passage is best read while considering the passage that appears just before it in Luke’s gospel. Just before Jesus stops off at the home of Mary and Martha, he tells the story of the Good Samaritan. In that passage, Jesus responds to a lawyer’s question by describing just how to love our neighbors, by being kind, by offering compassionate service, by ministering to them.
So, Jesus has just offered this moving story of hospitality and radical generosity, and within it, has also stated quite clearly that the way we are to love our neighbors is through action. We leave the story of the Good Samaritan with a clear mission of service, of action, and the importance of offering hospitality to our neighbors, who could be anyone.
So then, what is going on here in the story of Mary and Martha. Isn’t Martha offering hospitality to her neighbor, Jesus? Aren’t Martha’s actions work of compassion and service?
When read carefully, we can hear Jesus’ words as words of affection and concern, rather than reprimand or scolding. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.” Jesus is not prioritizing the contemplative over the active, rather, he sees the ways that she (and we) are prone to worry and distraction. Rather than worry and distraction, Jesus is calling us to compassion and caring.
He sees that Mary has chosen the better part, because she is residing in the present moment, and finding joy in the presence of Jesus. She is en-joying the time and the place where she is.
And, how difficult it can be to reside in the present moment, the worries and distractions of our lives are paramount. Our phones buzz in our pockets, the radio blares, our to do lists are overwhealming, we chase material goods and all kinds of busy-ness to distract us from the present.
The problem with distraction is that we can become used to distractions, so much so that we seek them out. Also, our worries, we give them space in our hearts and minds and then they take up camp there, and we cannot imagine being free from their psychic power over us.
Jesus knows that hospitality is at the heart of Jewish spirituality, going back to Abraham and Sarah welcoming the three messengers from God, who inform these old codgers that they will actually have babies. Sarah laughs at this message from beyond, but Abraham and Sarah are open to God’s presence in their midst. Sarah is not off in the tent worried and distracted, she is living in the present moment. So too, Mary, while she sits at Jesus’ feet, she has somehow turned off her own worries and distractions, and has welcomed the stranger – the Christ – in her home and in her heart.
So too, we would do well to realize that our own worries and distractions can get in the way of our own experience of God in our midst. God is with us, Jesus is with us, Emmanuel – God with us, but do we slow down long enough to realize this essential fact. Do we slow down to realize the gift in our midst?
Present moment; wonderful moment.