An Open Table where Love knows no borders


  1. Vincent Michael Hodge

    Alison Sampson’s quality sermon is titled “Martha Made Whole”. I agree with her assertion that Luke is not primarily focussed upon hospitality as an evil. He certainly is not discussing “contemplation”. Mary’s involvment in listening to Jesus is a most intense activity totally devoid of the concept of “contemplation”. Luke himself confirms her judgment since Luke’s gospel is structured around a series of 10-12 meals where various events are located. Jesus is born in a feed trough (manger). As Alison referenced, the Eucharistic meal is a climax. Even in Book of Acts the meeting of the resurrected Jesus and the community prior to the Ascension is described within meal terminology and a particular Greek word = “eating salt” – which is a reference to the covenant making activity of mealing together. so it would indeed be strange to have a key event described solely as an anti-meal event!.
    Scholars are quite united in saying that the Gospel is one long “Visitation” – Jesus’ Birth Narrative describes the descent while Jesus ascends back to the Father as the climax of the Gospel. The Gospel describes the Journey from Galilee to Jerusalem; to be followed by the journey from Jerusalem to Rome in Acts. Jesus is not simply the baby who visited the temple in his youth but he is the Visitor per excellence – a theophany in person.
    Alison gave us some key issues to think about – the obtaining of “wholeness”. She described Martha as being ‘envious’ of her sister since Martha’s duty to provide hospitality drew her away from her desire to listen to Jesus like Mary was doing. I am not so drawn to this theme since, as i have said elsewhere, Luke is focussed upon Jesus as “Good News” and simply not Jesus as “good advice”. Why is Jesus “Good News”. It is because the Visiting Status of the Person of Jesus is the source of the “What” that He is saying. Luke wants us to BE who Jesus says WE should be as HE is. Notice that both Martha and Mary are described in outlines that are traditionally “male role models” – it is Martha who welcomes Jesus to her house -usually the domain of man. It is Mary who sits at the feet – usually the prerogative of the male. Jesus is redefining Torah back to what it meant in its origins. Women and Men are not just mate and helpmate but both are independently equal while being co-dependently complementary. His authority for this is not just Logic but Logos. Jesus IS the Word in His Person, not just in His speeches.
    Martha is a strong character. She is very much like Peter and the Apostles; the Lawyer of the Samaritan story; Abraham and Sarah of the First Reading from Genesis. All of these people are so close to the truth but all manage to frequently miss its core meaning unless Jesus’ relationship to God is the foundational prime mover. Abraham and Sarah give hospitality but do not believe the promise/word of the Godly visitors; the lawyer answers correctly but totally incompletely. Peter professes Jesus but then is accused of being a ‘satan’ – he professes total loyalty just before the cock crows during the night.All of these characters are on the lisp/liminal space of failure and success.
    Scholars tells us that Luke and John wrote their Gospels separately but they also acknowledge unexplained parallels. Martha and Mary appear in John as family of Lazarus. Notice that Martha has a much deeper understanding than Mary in the account of the Raising of Lazarus in John’s Gospel. Martha can discuss resurrection with Jesus, albeit in an incomplete way. Martha makes quite a deep statement of her Faith in Jesus. Mary is too caught up in her loss and is a weeping mess. Even in Luke’s story if you have recourse to translations that rely more on the literal Greek text you come away from the story without the burden of social psychology and labels such as “envy”. Luke’s literary style is focussed not on insulting Jesus but on the contrast of Martha’s expectation that Jesus should have a stand alone “concern” about the rules of hospitality with Jesus’s reply that Martha has too many “concerns” which lead to her making a commotion akin to a crowd and getting distracted. The literary focus is on the comparison of “concerns” about Torah living – Martha actually makes an “ironic” but perfectly correct and powerful pseudo statement of Faith – she realises that Mary is “listening” to Jesus and it is this authority recognised by Martha that leads her to ask Jesus to “speak” a WORD to Mary. Martha’s script translates as a Greek word meaning ” that Mary will wholeheartedly help me”. Luke is being ironic and almost satirical here – Martha is actually mouthing unknowingly what the passage is all about – listen to Jesus and get the direction of the truth – the elements of Martha’s address to Jesus acknowledge the power of Jesus as “word for Mary” to draw Mary in the direction of ‘whole-hearted service” . Sadly though at the existential level , Martha is hanging onto the traditional Jewish hospitality custom of form without the substance of what the Visitor is reciprocally offering as Torah as originality. Visitors brought with them stories of news from distant places, even promises of infertility turned to fertility. Now of course what Martha is also missing is that Jesus is offering a reciprocity of gifts – gifts that Mary is grabbing onto, even if precociously. Jesus is signalling to the distracted Martha that he will protect Martha from any male criticism about becoming an active disciple of Jesus just as Jesus is supporting Mary in her position. Jesus is not an arbitrary non-reciprocal guru. He is inviting listeners to join Him in His kingdom project. That is the reciprocating gift giving He is seeking by accepting the welcoming invitation from Martha.
    Luke’s Gospel is centrally about the change for male and female in the Kingdom Message of Jesus based around renewed table fellowship. Jesus through Luke is highlighting the “push back” they can expect from His Message – just as did Peter, the Lawyer and Sarah ‘push back’. So much more enmity will come against Jesus and His disciples over His Word than can be expected from confusion over the place of table hospitality. Martha needs to accept that she has welcomed someone into her home who will upset the cultural practices not just of temple worship but even down to the micro world of domestic “pecking orders”. This why Jesus says that Mary has chosen the “intrinsically good portion” – not just of the meal ( portion = meal reference) but of the whole way of BEING God focussed.

  2. This was the Gospel passage that I preached on the last time that it came up 3 years ago and I had always struggled with it seeing it as condemnation of the role of hospitality but I came to see that without Martha”s action the feast would not have happened the way would not have been open for Mary’s act of raking the role of Discipleship – in one act Mary opened the door for all women and Jesus says “this will not be taken away” Both play a pivotal role in the story. However I think that Alison is seeking to show something even deeper – that I have not quite got my head around yet – I need to listen to it again

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