Reflection on This Week’s Readings


Jesus’ encounter with Mary and Martha in today’s gospel is sometimes used to justify a meditative, intellectual life (represented by Mary) over a life of active service (represented by Martha). But earlier in Luke’s gospel, Jesus is clear that his family consists of “those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21). Both hearing and doing are important. So why is Mary praised and Martha scolded? After all, the story of Mary and Martha comes immediately after the parable of the good Samaritan, who cared for a man in need, treated his injuries, and paid for his recovery—who served his neighbor (Luke 10:25-37).

A careful reading of today’s story shows that Jesus does not scold Martha for what she is doing, but rather for her state of mind in doing it: “Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things” (Luke 10:41). A more literal translation might say: “You are anxious and distressed.” Martha is doing her work not as a joyful response to the Lord’s presence, but out of fear and anxiety. Perhaps she is worried about being a good host to her guest, anxious about making a good impression, distressed about what might happen if she fails to provide an adequate welcome.

“There is need of only one thing,” Jesus tells Martha. If we are to “do the word” of God, we must first hear it. Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet, hearing the word. She’s on the right track; now her hearing must lead to action. Martha has failed to hear the word, so her action comes out of distress and anxiety rather than faithful response to the transformative presence of God.

Hear the word of God and do it. Be like Mary, hearing the word that comes from Jesus. And then let that word transform you and move you into active service.



Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
We join with Martha, Mary, Luke, the ancient Yahwist narrator, the later editor of Genesis, the anonymous poet of the Psalm, the author of Colossians, and perhaps even the Colossian community singing its hymn to welcome Christ to our table and hear his word. This is no “ordinary” Sunday.
To sit at the feet of Jesus and receive the word of God is given now to us. Each Sunday we sit at table with Jesus along with Martha and Mary. Preachers are advised to avoid fantasizing about the relationship between the sisters, which disregards the point of the story.
The narrative of Abraham serving a meal to the three visitors, who are addressed as “my lord” and who then speak as one, is set next to Luke 10 because in both stories, God eats with the people and delivers a word of grace. Especially Orthodox Christians have used this story as their primary depiction of the Trinity, and in many Orthodox churches, there is an icon of this story over the great doors to the altar.
This passage praises the Christ with whom the assembly now gathers at table. The guest and host of our meal is the embodied God, the creator, the reconciler, and the hope of future glory. Yet this one is the crucified Christ, for the firstborn of all creation is also the firstborn from the dead. This reading holds the divine Christ creating the universe next to Jesus eating at Martha’s table.

Psalm 15

In response to the story of Abraham’s meal with the mysterious three, we join together in this psalm which describes the blameless life of those who meet with God. We might think of Abraham as one such blameless person. Christians know that they have not lived in this perfect way, and so we are glad to receive the Colossians hymn to Christ, who has.

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