Sunday, 17 July 2016

The better part

Martha and Mary are quintessential displays of opposites within the scriptural challenges that appear in the Gospel passages (Lk. 10.38-42).  In looking at this passage all sorts of reasons are given for the reason for Christ's saying that Mary had chosen the better part.  In some respects all are quite right and it is very dependant on our own circumstance as to how we will interact with the implications within this small vignette.

Perhaps, for me it is the way that the two women are in their being which is of importance rather than what Christ is doing or saying.  Martha is for me the epitome of  many wives and partners who are house proud.  I am not saying anything against this, in fact I am reminded by Martha of my wife.  Whilst she was alive we enjoyed, immensely the opportunity to entertain friends and colleagues around the dinner table.  Often I would be the cook for these occasions whilst she would make the table arrangements and  insist that every nook and cranny was dusted and cleaned to perfection.  There was none of this sweep it under the carpet or close the door on the untidy aspects of the house.  The house was swept and cleaned from top to bottom prior to the guests arrival.  I would often despair at the minutiae and detail to which she was prepared and insisted on going to on behalf of the guests.  It helped that she kept the house appearance clean in the first place.  For me this is Martha.  A woman who worries about the state of things prior to and during the guests stay in the house.  It is a celebration of the household and the person takes pride in offering first class hospitality to the stranger and friend alike.

I am in contrast somewhat like Mary.  I am content to be with the guest or the company (if I were not cooking), not as an entertainer, nor as a conversationalist but by the pleasure of being with, listening and contributing to the peace and companionship of the moment.  My concern was that the food be delicious and that I could spend quality time with our guests, irrespective of who they were. I often became frustrated with the pedantism  of my wife in the lead up to a dinner or having guests around.  It was not that I did not see the need for a clean house and a neat appearance, what I objected to was the fuss.  I am quite content to ensure a clean appearance but I don't need to make an overt effort just because guests are arriving.  My kids and the family live in the home, it is not a show house, we are here to be with the guest not to showcase the house as if it were an object for sale.

In this story, we must remember that it is Jesus that they are entertaining.  This is something we often overlook when trying to come to grips with the interpretation of the story.  We automatically see the entry of the Christ and make an assumption that this illustrates Mary's understanding of the Christic presence.  Let us see the humanity on display when we look at the episode not the presence of God/Christ.  This for me is an emphasis on Jesus' humanity and the interaction that is happening at the human level.  If we delve into the fanciful footwork of seeking the spiritual in every reading we fail to accommodate the more basic human reality that brings us into contact with God. It is here in the simple humanity of two people in company that brings in the Christic presence not the fact of Jesus 'the Christ'.

Interacting with a person takes energy, is this why we onlysee individuals? (

This simple interaction of a person with a person, when we engage with the other as a person not as a label, denies our tendency to ostracise and individualise everyone.  If we do not see this in our lives, we become the same as the Israelites that Amos rails against (Amos 8.5-6) who are only after their own individual success and not the concerns of the person.  Our day to day dealings are with individuals who have no personality or rather whose personality is of no consequence to us.  Until we realise for ourselves the need to come into conscious communion with our neighbours as ourselves, look them in the face and see them for themselves, we will be unable to find Christ and God's gracious presence in our lives. We burden ourselves with our day to day concerns, as Martha did, whilst not attending to our day to day interactions that happen in the present not the future.  The presence of God is in the present, this is where we live. Mary sees the person of Jesus in the present and therefore sits before Christ.  It is not that Mary sits before Christ who happens to be Jesus, this is the wrong way round as it means that Mary is seeing an object not a person.  Although Dr Ike, from Global Ethics, is talking about leadership and followership his quote equally applies to each of us on a daily basis:
 "The bottom line for leadership and followership is not always the emphasis on what I have but rather on who I am. Not what I learnt from others but rather on what I taught.  Not what I received, but rather on what I gave.  Not what I pulled out and took but rather on what I put in. Not what I accumulated, but what I shared.  Indeed and worthy of thought, not even on how or what I lived, but what I left behind.This is the challenge."

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