Readings for (Proper 11) Eighth Sunday after Pentecost 22 July 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Eighth Sunday after Pentecost Proper 11C / Ordinary 16C / Pentecost +8 Textweek


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

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

After a couple of weeks of long readings, the Gospel narrative this week is short, and on the surface once again, it doesn’t require a lot of unpacking and yet somehow it does or it can create some unease. We seem to be torn between our own association with Mary on the one hand and Martha on the other. It’s one of those short readings where you almost hear a voice on the inside saying, ‘Yes I know what that’s like’, you know? And we can sympathise with and have empathy with all that are in the narrative.

Taking scripture at face value or in a literal sense has led and still leads to that confounding unease, forever giving us choices that seem to negate each other. Mary sat at the Lord’s feet – the classical posture of worship and the social position of the servant, and our religion worships Jesus. They sort of fit, so it’s very easy for us to make the leap and see Mary as the sort of prototype Anglican – ‘this is the posture we should adopt’. But Christ never, never sought such a posture; on the contrary, he offers the opposite – he comes to serve and to exalt the lowly, he does not come to seek worship, and it’s helpful to reread the Gospel without or even beyond that simplistic understanding that it’s all about Jesus. Put it down and say to yourself, ‘This is not about Jesus’ and then pick it up again and see the Gospel as a witness to what Jesus reveals about us, and we become the import of the Gospel, not Jesus, we don’t keep pushing everything onto him.

Mary and Martha are not two sisters, one doing the right thing – worshipping Jesus - and the other doing the wrong thing. Mary and Martha are about humanity and about us, the seeking of balance within our lives. To be worried and distracted by our many tasks we know only too well that that’s not a life-giving orientation. Rather it becomes a path of struggle that leads to retirement as a prelude to death. To listen with an orientation to the divine is life-giving, and as it says in verse 41, ‘will not be taken away’. It is the path that leads beyond death. It’s really interesting, we’ve suddenly discovered that this is a story about ourselves and the positions that we can take within - an orientation that will lead us towards death, to that which is seen and that which is known and that which has a busyness that will eventually wear out, or that part of us that sees beyond and knows that that can’t be what it’s all about, there is more.

Within the Bible itself there is a progression, a development of theological understanding and to the surprise of many in the Church that progression continues each and every day. The Bible is more like the Harry Potter series than what the Church tells us. The Church tells us that this is a book that’s got all the truth in it, that it is shut, closed and there is nothing more; believe it and you’ve got everything. Yes, it’s true on one level, but surely we are called to read it and in its reading, it takes on a different shape to what it did in its writing.

The vision of Amos, the first reading that we had today, had at least two interpretations for the people of its time. It spoke of the religious and political reality for the people of Israel. Things weren’t going particularly well at the time. Amos could see and see through. It also can be read as a vision that speaks of the end times, a coming day of judgement. The flat-earth theologians actually thought that the day of judgement was going to come at a certain point. My guess is that more than ninety nine percent of them anticipated that that day will have occurred before 2007; most of those that spoke of the end times in expectation of a literal reality, thought it was about to happen, just as eighty percent of the Christian church that talks about the Second Coming thinks it’s going to happen sometime between April 14th next year and probably twenty maybe thirty years after that. There is a progression; the majority may not yet have seen and become aware of it because we do lock into things that are known – ‘well if someone lived with that view of the world for so long, it’s good enough for me, why change it?’ Yet the world continues to unfold.

When we look at the Amos reading for ourselves and seek our encounter with the divine in it in the present moment, today, then we can find an echo of our every day experience in the text. We don’t read the reading and look at it: ‘"Amos, what do you see?" And I said, "A basket of summer fruit."’ Surely we’re not going to stop there. We find ourselves looking, if we look into the reading, ourselves: what is Amos saying to me and to us, today, in this moment? We find ourselves looking into the reality of a famine and a thirst, a thirst for hearing the word of the Lord - is this not Mary’s hunger? We find ourselves wandering from sea to sea, and from north to east, running to and fro - is this not Martha’s busyness? Amos has a vision, a basket of summer fruit; what is important in that reading – is it Amos, is it the basket of fruit? It’s neither. The same applies to the Gospel – it’s not Jesus, nor the actual event that is being described and narrated, but it is the process, the process of vision. It is engaging the divine in the every day and being moved and motivated towards the divine.

Paul gets it; Paul engages the process of vision; he understands what Amos saw and he integrates Mary and Martha. He doesn’t think this is a story about two sisters at all, he doesn’t think that Amos is looking at a basket of summertime fruit, he gets it. And when we read the reading from Colossians, we can see that he gets it in a sense that shapes his own reality: Christ is more, much more than Jesus to Paul. ‘He is the image of the invisible God and in Christ, all things hold together’. In verses 18 and 19 Paul sees that Christ is the orientation toward life, ‘For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell’. Paul recognises that there is a real implication for each and every one of us, each and every one of us, in the Gospel. The hostile, those doing evil deeds, those outside of the faith – the Gentiles - even Martha is included in the process of vision that Paul perceives. And what has been revealed is, in verse 27, ‘the riches of the glory of this mystery’. Is that not what we seek? Is that not what we experience when we do come together, and that is we glimpse the riches of the glory of the divine mystery, which is - he even spells it out in case we miss it – ‘which is Christ in you’. That’s what it’s all about, the whole book beginning to end, Genesis to Revelation. It is all about Christ in you.

Mary didn’t hear Martha whingeing in the kitchen; with an orientation toward the divine mystery, that voice in her heart was still. She listened, she ate and she drank, putting an end to the famine of her struggle; she got up, she thanked her visitor for his presence and she went and did the dishes and then she lived a life that shone. Mary gave birth to the divine that was birthed in her when she said yes to the divine that called her name.

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris