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O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
you call us to fullness of life:
deliver us from unbelief
and banish our anxieties
with the liberating love
of Jesus Christ our Lord.
O Lord, you have searched me out and known me;
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You mark out my journeys and my resting place
and are acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word on my tongue,
but you, O Lord, know it altogether.
You encompass me behind and before
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
so high that I cannot attain it.
Where can I go then from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I climb up to heaven, you are there;
if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there your hand shall lead me,
your right hand hold me fast.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now and shall be for ever. Amen.
Reading: Luke 10.38-42
Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’
Today’s brief reading from Luke’s gospel is almost as well-known as yesterday’s parable of the Good Samaritan. It is also a reading that has been subjected to a surprisingly varied range of interpretations, with different motives and motivations being presumed and expounded by preachers and commentators. In my lifetime I have heard many preachers address these few verses in so many different ways. In general, they settle on an interpretation which casts Martha as a model of active spirituality, and Mary as a model of the contemplative approach to prayer and worship. This interpretation has worked for many people over a long period of time, but recently I came to wonder whether we should be looking for a deeper meaning in these few words.
When reading about the way in which first century Jewish society worked, I encountered a different angle from which to consider Luke’s account of Jesus’ visit to Martha and Mary. In Jewish homes, as in synagogues, there was a clear distinction between male and female. The public room of the house was the domain of the man, while the kitchen and other quarters were the places where the women gathered. The only places in the house where male and female mixed were the marital bedroom and the area where children played together. This domestic set-up puts a different slant on today’s reading. While Martha was busy with the household chores, Mary had trespassed into a strictly male domain. Furthermore, she had adopted the role and the posture of the (male) student, at the rabbi’s feet.
Why should this information make a difference? Well, it was not remarked or frowned upon by Jesus, so should it be by us? It is fair for us to assume that Jesus approved of this ‘scandalous’ break with the protocols of the time. Taking that to be the case, Mary becomes a model for Jesus’ new way of living. Throughout his ministry Jesus challenged the unnecessary and inappropriate man-made conventions of religious practice. Jesus urged those around him to live a counter-cultural life of love and service, and not just a life of blind obedience.
Preachers often conclude their sermons on this passage by asking us to consider who we identify with in our prayer and worship: Martha or Mary? I, however, am inviting you to identify with both of them!
Prayers of Intercession
Let us pray to the Lord who through his word teaches us to pray.
Grant that the Church, the Body of Christ, may be in all things worthy of its Head. As we are reconciled through the Cross, make us reconcilers and messengers of his peace.
Be merciful to a world where so many are too concerned with the business of life to care for the things of the spirit. Give to those in places of authority the revelation of Christ as Lord of all, that he may rule in their hearts and direct their power into the way of love.
Give grace to us in our families to share the burdens of work and to be concerned for the needs of others. Give us the blessing of quietness, and time for recollection to be close to you.
Have mercy on all whose burden of work is heavy. Be with those who have no work, comfort their despair and guide them to find the employment that they desire.
We remember the departed who rest from their labours. Grant them peace through the blood of the Cross.
That we may always choose the better part, we pray in the name of Christ.
Prayer for the week
Lord and heavenly Father,
make us mindful of your presence with us;
that we may draw near to you
with holy and humble hearts,
and offer prayers and praises
acceptable in your sight;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
Let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.
Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go,
my daily labour to pursue;
thee, only thee, resolved to know,
in all I think or speak or do.
Charles Wesley (1707–1788)