“Jesus, Do You Not Care?” Luke 10:38-42

For as long as I’ve known this story of Mary and Martha, the focus has always ended up being about the polarized positions of the two and the contrast between them.

Martha with her busy-ness, scurrying around in a flurry of pots, pans and preparations.

Mary with her fervent devotion sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to his every word.

Which one should one be, a Mary or a Martha?   That’s usually what we jump to when the story is told.  We think we hear in this episode Jesus’ commendation for Mary and his reprimand of Martha for being too busy.

Except, we don’t.

Look at it again.

Jesus does not tell Martha that she should sit down and listen up.  He doesn’t dismiss what she does in attending to the honorable obligation of extending hospitality.   For heaven’s sake, he’s tired and worn out from travel and probably looking forward to a good home cooked meal!

Nor does Jesus tell Mary to get off her duff and help out her sister.   Mary has simply made her choice, and it is (as it turns out) it is an excellent one for her.  She shouldn’t be discouraged from having made it.  She has chosen the “better part” Jesus says, which he assures will not be taken away from her, despite Martha’s complaint that the work seems to have all fallen on her.

No, what is modelled instead is something with which we’re not exactly sure what to do, and increasingly so it appears.

What is modelled is listening, observing, and reflecting.

Martha tries unsuccessfully to rally Jesus to her own viewpoint.   “Jesus, do you not care?” she spouts in a fit of apparent frustration, pointing her finger at Mary for leaving her to do all the work on her own.

But Jesus does not bite at her baiting, nor does he reprimand her.   Instead, what He does is observe and comment.   He comments not on the situation, or on what is being done, or not done, or on who is doing what, but rather on what he sees taking place within Martha.

“You are worried and distracted by many things….”

Is that a description that would fit these times in which we live?

Distractions abound.

Worries seem to be everywhere.

There are no lack of speculations about what actions should or should not be taken.  Indeed, we are told constantly that something should be done, must be done, proposals are made, counter proposals are offered.  There is no lack of opinions or stances or proposals out there for any number of issues that present themselves.

What is increasingly lacking is the kind of “calm in the middle of the storm” that Jesus models here.

What is lacking is observation and comment, not on the situation, but on what is going on inside the person.

Jesus will not get Martha to sit down.

Jesus will also not get Mary to jump to her feet, either out of guilt or desire.

All that Jesus can do in this moment is point out the choices that have been made, and reflect on what those choices are doing to the individuals who have made them.

Mary is in a good place.

Martha is “worried and distracted.”

And Jesus?   Well, he’s there with both of them, in their respective states, and apparently he won’t be pulled into taking sides or making pronouncements or urging actions.

Frustrating, isn’t it?

“Do you not care, Jesus?”   Martha blurts out, and we can see how Martha’s question surfaces, for it also surfaces in us.

We watch as the world seems to spin horribly out of control.

Violence begets violence.

Injustice motivates coups in far off lands, and marches in our own streets.

Desperate and frustrated people take up firearms and lay plots and plans for revenge and forcing hands.

The innocent suffer.

The blissfully unaware are caught off guard.  Who looks for a speeding truck to plow through a crowd?

“Do you not care, Jesus?”  We want to say, scream at the top of our lungs.

We want Jesus to do something, raise up a great leader, restrain the evil in our midst, address the inequality that breeds contempt, squashes hope, and that renders helpless.

“Do you not care, Jesus?  How can you just sit there when…..”

And there it is, our very own Mary/Martha moment when we realize that Jesus is doing something, and it is very disconcerting and uncomfortable for us.

“You are worried and distracted by many things, there is need of only one thing.”   His words still echo across time and circumstances.

What is making us worried and distracted?  Have we lost sight that God is with us in the midst of it all?

And what is the “one thing” that eludes us?

Could it not be what Jesus models, learning how to observe and listen, and to comment on what is going on inside, and to reflect on what that means?

This is what is in short supply currently, this election cycle, in this world, in this day and age.

There are way too many people are trying to justify themselves, to set themselves up as saviors.

There are too many people who have opinions on what direction they believe everyone should go, have to go, to make things work.

There are too many distractions from the center of life.

The demands of hospitality codes have set Martha in opposition to Mary.

The worry of doing hospitality right, or enough, or adequately has affected their relationship.  They are in disagreement on what to do, even and maybe because Jesus is present.    And, because conflict is what we tend to key in on, we assume that one of the sisters must be right.   One must be “wrong”, and we assume that Jesus’ role in the story is to sort that out for them.

But that’s not what happens at all.

This is an unresolved story.

We don’t know how it ends.

We only know that what Jesus seems to doing here is attending to the relationship by helping Martha look at what is going on inside of her.

We observe now, that when one attends to that, possibility is opened up.

You have to look inside yourself, so Martha, you are worried and distracted…..one thing is needed.  Mary has made her choice and is at peace with it, are you at peace with your choice?

This is a terribly unsatisfying sermon, I know.

You’d like me to tell you what the “one thing” is that you ought to be attending to, so that you could check it off your list and move on.

You’d like me to validate the work ethic of Martha, tell you that the more you do the more beloved by God you are, but that’s not grace.

Or, maybe you’d like me encourage a few more “Mary’s” to get busy around here. Encourage people to join the altar guild, or run for council, or work around here to address the weeds in the pavement and the maintenance stuff that needs to be done and that falls on too few anymore.

You’d like me, like we’d like Jesus, to make a few things clear and bring some resolution to the messy affair that is life.

Or, at very least, you’d like me to join you in a good rousing chorus of “Do you not care, Jesus…” what happens to us, to the church, to the nation, to the community, or whatever is distracting us this week.

Sometimes I’ll be tempted to do just that… but not today.

Today I’m just standing here befuddled at Jesus’ calmness, and his insight into us, and his willingness to sit with us, both in our calm and in our anxious and frenzied actions.

Today I’m dumbfounded by the grace that seems all to scarce these days, the ability to take people where they are, and love them, and to listen and affirm what they see in them, in us.

We likely already know what the “one thing” we need is for each of us, I suspect.

But will we make the choice?   Will we make the choice for the better part that we know is within our reach?

Or, will we continue to shake our fist and have the audacity to demand that Jesus fix things for us, and preferably in the way we think they should be fixed?

That is the question the Gospel leaves us all with today, as Jesus persists in doing that thing that it seems only he can do at times, to be calm and present in the midst of the storms of this life that worry and distract us.

Can we learn from him?

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Luke 10:25-37 “The End of Justifying Ourselves.”

 

The parable of the Good Samaritan is fertile ground for preaching.  There is so much that Jesus opens up and examines in the telling of it, and by and large one way to approach the parable is to examine the motivations and the possible “justifications” that can be found in it.

The Lawyer is wanting to “justify himself.”  He asks a deeper question of Jesus than one that pertained just to the reading of the law, just so he is clear about any expectations that may be placed upon him.  “And who is my neighbor?” is the question that is the prompter of the parable.

Within the parable then, we have the characters of the Priest, the Levite, the robbers, and the man who fell in among them who is lying by the side of the road.   Indeed, one approach with this parable is to try to examine the motivations of the characters, their “justifications” for what they do.   So you’ve probably heard sermons on why the Priest and Levite might have been on that road and why they may not have stopped, or about the stupidity of the man for traveling this dangerous road well known for being a place where thieves hang out all by himself, or the surprise in the story of the hated one, the Samaritan, ending up being the hero in the end.

But today, I’m not much interested in any of those angles.

Today, what I find myself focusing on is how this is really the end of all attempts at justifying actions.

Isn’t that really finally the point of the parable?

It’s told to one who is attempting to “Justify himself”, and we instinctively see that it is meant to put an end to the lawyer’s attempts to do that, to put a reason or limit to what he should have to do.

It’s told in such a way that all the motivations are stripped away.

Those who should have had compassion do not.

The one who should be enemy, the last person you’d expect to have anything to do with anyone “coming out of Jerusalem” is the one “moved with compassion.”

There are no ulterior motives here.

There are no expectations for reward.

There is no reason for the Samaritan to do what he does except that in the story the Samaritan is imbued with the quality that is usually reserved for God or God’s agent alone.

He is given compassion!

He is “moved in the gut” at what he sees.

He alone reacts not with justifications, or calculations, or the considering of implications, but simply out of mercy and compassion for what he has seen.

By the end of the parable, the need to justify is all but moot.  “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell in among robbers?”  Jesus asks.

It is this acting out of mercy that silences all manner of justifications, qualifiers and excuses.

So I’m going to make the sermon really short and really simple today.

For crying out loud, we know this story backward and forward by now.  We can feel Jesus’ relentless insistence and push in and through it to strip away all the justifications made or attempted by anyone.  Jesus presses you down to the level of whether or not you are showing mercy in your own questions, your own actions, your own words, and your own life.

Yes, it really is that simple, and it is that hard.

The charge given to us by the Savior in the parable is to “Go and do likewise.” That doesn’t mean we are to go out and find someone lying in the ditch to help them.

It doesn’t even mean that our actions should be measured by whether or not we are helping people or hurting them.

No, the “Go and do likewise” means that our task is to act and live and speak out of the gut wrenching-quality of mercy that comes from God and that is a Christ-like thing.

The “Go and do likewise” is the call to act out of compassion, rather than to seek reasons for acting.

This parable is meant to be the end of seeking to justifying ourselves.

“Go and do likewise” Jesus says, and we begin to recognize how hard that is, for it is in our very nature to try to “Justify Ourselves.”    It is in our very nature to weigh options, and to consider motivations, and to look for the “how will this help me?” or “how much will this cost?” angle on everything.

We see that in the political campaigns.

We witness it in the actions in legislatures and municipalities.

The world is built on the “tit for tat” system of justification.   How far do I have to go? How far can we go?  What can I get in return?  What is the bare minimum I can get by with?

The world is built on people seeking to justify themselves.   From candidates who call each other crooked and liar instead of talking about substantive issues to kids on the playground who cry out “She did it first!”

Oh, the desire to justify ourselves runs deep within us, and it tends to open up our ugly.

And so it is that the cries of “Black lives matter” is met by the counter cry of “All lives matter.”   The need to justify experience, or to hold on to privilege, or to discount the experience of others runs deep.

To the anguish of black men shot there rises the counter phrase of “he must have done something…”

To the angst of police officers shot in the line of duty, the counter cry goes up of police brutality driving crowds to riot, and peaceful protests interrupted by violence and labeling.

And under it all is the desire to justify, to somehow get ourselves off the hook for having to deal with it.

“See, this is what happens when….’

“See, this is the result of 200 years of racism…”

“See, this is what you get when you don’t obey the rules….”

“See, how does the office know you don’t have a gun…”

“See, how do I know that officer isn’t a bad cop ready to take his frustration out on me…”

Justifying ourselves and our own actions, that’s what we find ourselves trying to do, instead of responding our of mercy and compassion.   We raise our arguments and our counter arguments go up and the lines are drawn that separate people, and the divides go up, and the sense of trust is shattered, and the calls go out for the building walls, and for the excluding “those others,” and name calling begins, and labeling takes place, and segregating is proposed to “keep us safe” or to “make us great again”, and it continues, and it is never satisfied.

There is always one more, “And who is my neighbor” question that can be raised.

But this parable, this is the end of that!

In this parable Jesus gives us just one directive, one mode of operation, one way of responding.

It is found in following the gut wrench, and moving to help.  It is found in Mercy.

Mercy is what shows you who is your neighbor.

Mercy is what drives away the divides, and the questions, and the pain,

It is in acting out of mercy that you are compelled to move over toward the ugliness instead of being repulsed by it.  You go to the ugliness not to observe it with morose fascination, but rather to understand the wounds and to find a way to stop the bleeding!

It is acting out of mercy that puts you in contact with raw flesh, and deep pain as you try to binds the wounds and soothe them.

It is costly.   Mercy is costly to the one who gives it, extends it, and acts out of it, with no expectation of repayment but only an expectation that this may cost me more, and that’s o.k. so long as the bloodied, beaten one is restored.

Here is the truth today, we’re all bloodied and beaten a bit.  The events of this past week have rather beat us up and left us in the ditch.

We are dumbfounded and shocked that once again black lives have been lost at the hands of those sworn to serve and to protect.

We are numb and incensed that five Dallas police officers lost their lives doing their duty, and that a peaceful rally for justice was wracked with senseless violence.

We hurt for Micah, a veteran who served his country but who somehow snapped and took the route of violence.

We moan in pain that Micah’s life was ended without trial or jury; but with C-4 on the end of a robot’s arm, and we ponder, ponder what that means and what kind of a road we are walking now?

We cry for the police officers who were called upon to carry out their duty and had to put their personal grief on hold as they did so.

We’re beat up, there is no doubt about it, and we need mercy.   Mercy from a God who comes to find us and promises to bind our wounds and carry us to a place of safety, and who will pay whatever it takes and more to help us mend.

And, who by the way will not ask us to “justify ourselves” or our actions, or to fess up as to how we ended up there in the ditch in the first place.

There is a time for that, and it is not now.

Now, to the bloodied and the beaten and those who still seek to justify their actions there is only one response that is appropriate.

Mercy.

And this ends up being the key.

Anytime you feel the urge to “justify yourself” or to explain, or to rant or philosophize about events… that is the moment you recognize that you have missed Jesus’ invitation to “Go and do likewise.”

That is the moment when you ceased to be paying attention to acting out of mercy.

That is the moment when you ceased to be neighbor, and instead became lawyer.

This is hard, no doubt about it, this “Go and do likewise” thing.    It will take us having the mind of Christ, and not our own, to make it happen.

May God show us how to do it this day, and in the days to come.