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Pentecost 6 Proper 11C July 21, 2019

Amos 8:1-12
Psalm 52
Colossians 1:15-28
Luke 10:38-42

In our first reading today, we have another passage from the prophet Amos. Last Sunday, God held God’s plumb line up to the Northern Kingdom, and we learned that, under the rule of King Jeroboam II, the rich and powerful were gaining in wealth and power, but most of the other people were struggling just to survive.

This week, God shows Amos a vision of a basket of summer fruit. Herbert O’Driscoll writes, “Amos wants his listeners to imagine vividly what happens to a basket of summer fruit, especially in the heat of that land. It rots. Its beauty has gone, its delicious taste has become repulsive. This is precisely how he wishes to portray his society.” (O’Driscoll, The Word Among Us, Year C, Vol. 3, p. 55.

To portray the level of corruption and dishonesty, Amos describes merchants resenting the sabbath and other holy days because they can’t sell wheat or grain. He says that they “make the ephah small and the shekel great.” The ephah is a unit of weight or quantity, and the shekel is the currency. The merchants are rigging the scales so that the buyer gets less than the correct weight, but pays more money for it. This is causing great hardship to the poor.

The level of corruption in the society is so profound that there seems to be no hope. God is going to send a famine, but it is not a famine of food or water, but  “a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.” When we humans fail to treat each other with compassion and justice, our hearts can be so hardened that we can no longer hear God calling to us.

Our gospel for today is the wonderful and familiar story of Mary and Martha. We know that these two sisters and their brother, Lazarus, are among Jesus’ closest friends and that he would stop by their home in Bethany whenever he could.

Scholars tell us that Martha is functioning as the head of the house. She welcomes Jesus. In sitting at the feet of Jesus, Mary is acting as a formal disciple.

Jesus says that Mary has chosen “the better part.” Does that mean that he thinks Martha’s preparing the meal is an inferior role?  The text says that Martha is distracted by “many tasks.” The phrase “Many tasks” is translated from the Greek diakonia, servanthood. Jesus told his disciples and us, “I am among you as one who serves,” and he called his disciples and us to be servants. Would he then criticize the role of a servant? No.

In the past, some folks have felt that, in saying that Mary has chosen “the better part,” Jesus us telling us that contemplatives are superior to activists.  Most scholars would disagree with that interpretation. Then, what is our Lord saying?

Biblical scholar Charles Cousar suggests that we remember the parable that appears directly before this encounter with Mary and Martha—the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Cousar says that the Samaritan “…is a model for loving one’s neighbor (as well as identifying who the neighbor is.” (Cousar, Texts for Preaching Year C,  p. 437.

Cousar continues, “…Discipleship has to do not only with love of neighbor but also with love of God, not only with active service but also with a silent and patient waiting upon [Jesus]. The Samaritan and Mary belong together.”

Where did the Samaritan get the strong faith and the vibrant grace to go over to this half-dead stranger, and save his life? Probably from an understanding of God gained from spending time with God. We see him engaged in active and life-saving ministry but we don’t see all the time he has spent in the presence of God.

On the other hand, we are seeing Mary making the choice to place herself in the presence of Jesus and to absorb everything she can. Cousar writes that Mary is “a learner of Jesus.” This reminds me of our diocesan mission statement, that we are called to “pray the prayer of Christ, learn the mind of Christ, and do the deeds of Christ.” We have to spend time with God, Jesus, and the Spirit to get the guidance and grace that we need to do ministry.

Is Jesus putting Martha down? I don’t think so for a minute. The text says that the disciples were with Jesus, so Martha is probably faced with 12 guests. They have to be fed and perhaps housed. Somebody has to take care of all those details. We know that our Lord valued the ministry of hospitality. He was constantly feeding and welcoming people.

Jesus loves and respects both Mary and Martha.With their brother, Lazarus, they are his closest friends. Coming just after the story of the helpful Samaritan, this story is reminding us of how important it is to spend time with Jesus. I think, also, that our Lord is saying that he would like to have some quiet time with both Mary and Martha.

Time together is a precious gift.  Time with family and friends, time with our faith community, and time with God. I thank God for our time together today.  Amen.

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