Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

by Crossings

Luke 10:38-42
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 11–Sunday Between July 17 and July 23 Inclusive)
analysis by Mike Hoy

38Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39She had a sister named Mary who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40But 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.” 41But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

DIAGNOSIS: Lesser Portions

Step 1–Initial Diagnosis: Many Tasks
Martha’s life is filled with many tasks. So are ours. Having so many tasks can be appropriately appreciated as part and parcel of the nature of vocation (vocatio). But the malady of these tasks is when they become (as they obviously do for Martha, and for us) a burden, nothing more than life’s hassle. It soon becomes clear that her hospitable welcoming of Jesus into her home and the preparation of a meal is itself converted into a “chore” of a demanding (law-oriented) lifestyle. Likewise, in our daily living, we cannot escape the temptation to pervert our work from being our joy into being a demand.

Step 2–Advanced Diagnosis: Distracted
How off-base we can get is evident by Martha’s one impetuous question, whereby she (1) violates her so-called hospitality by chastising Jesus; (2) tries to embarrass her sister, Mary, in front of her guest (?!); and (3) seeks to make herself commendable for all her noble efforts. The truth of the matter is that not only is her behavior dis-tasteful, but her inner soul is filled with disdain for God, for others, and for her tasks. Such agitated distraction is a sign of worry (v. 41). But that worry is more problematic than simply the matter of completing the tasks. That worry is the unfaith that if we don’t get it done, we will not be righteous–it is the basis on which we have staked our life’s merits.

Step 3–Final Diagnosis: Taken to Task
Ultimately, for that worry, it is she who is taken to task by Jesus, who points out to her that she has done her tasks based on her worrying choices for lesser portions. Those who live by the law of having their work-performance as the measure of their life reap those rewards. But the rewards are really recompense, for they (we) fail to love God as well as sister/brother. Indeed, there is some basis to the worrying distraction. We are left unfulfilled by our task-driven life, and ultimately judged as lacking any portion at God’s banquet.

PROGNOSIS: Better Portions

Step 4–Initial Prognosis: The One Thing Needful
Starved by worry and impending judgment, the nourishing presence of our Lord Jesus provides the “one thing” we need. Jesus cuts through the tension by calling Martha by name (twice, almost comically). It is not to ridicule Martha, but to give Martha (and us) the assurance that there is nothing to fear. Jesus has taken our anxieties upon himself, in order that we might live in the joy of his feast. Indeed, Jesus is the Host, not the guest, for our lives.

Step 5–Advanced Prognosis: Listening
The faithful response is one of sitting and listening to Jesus’ Word as the daily nourishment for sustaining our souls. In turning our attention and our ears to his promise, our attention is diverted from the worry of having to live up to the demands (however much based in the Law) that are pressing upon us–and by so doing, we count ourselves as having self-worth that emanates from our dining on the One Thing Needful.

Step 6–Final Prognosis: Living the Better (Best!) Part
Nourished, we nourish. Our new task (commission) comes in living our lives, even in our daily working, as though it all depended on the Work of our Lord. Indeed, many in our world have tasted and seen the goodness of our Lord from simply wondering where we get the energy to keep at it, to take on new and bold ventures. It has led to the eventual spread of Christianity–and what a spread it is! But we live the best part, because we live in the best-ing partnership of our hospitable Host.


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