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Martha, Mary, and Jesus

MARTHA, MARY, AND JESUS LUKE 10: 38-42 While doing his rounds Jesus finds St. Peter, at the pearly gates, looking worn out and very, very tired. “Rocky,” he says to his friend, “why don’t you take a break. I’ll handle the processing for you.” “Thanks, Jesse,” Peter replies with glee and leaves. With his rooster. Jesus takes over and as he looks down the long line of people being processed, he notices an old man who looked very, very familiar. Jesus feels he knows the old man. Eventually, he is face to face with the old man. Jesus asks, “Sir, what did you do when you were back on earth?” “I was a carpenter,” the old man replies. The reply got Jesus very excited. “What made your life very special then?” he continues. “I had a very special son,” was the reply. A carpenter who had a special son? This gets Jesus more excited! “What can you tell me about your son?” Jesus draws closer as he asks. “Nails and wood!,” the carpenter answers. Nails and wood? Jesus was beyond ecstatic. He blurts out, “Father?” The old man responds, “Pinocchio?” Diversity is a gift. Difference is a fundamental fact of life. No two people are exactly alike. No two fingerprints are exactly alike. The same goes with experiences. And UTS seminarians. Plurality is a gift. Father and son, nails, and wood do not always point to Jesus. They can also point to Pinocchio. There is always more than one reading of a text, including what Prof. McDivith calls “Living Human Documents.” Actually, there is legion. Interpretation is always particular and perspectival. Good news is always relative. When David killed Goliath, it was good news to Israelites, bad news to Philistines, and tragic news to Goliath’s mother! Our lectionary reading for Sunday, the story about Martha, Mary, and Jesus, has been interpreted throughout the centuries in so many different ways. Yes, legions. Prof. Antonio Pacudan has a very good essay on the Lukan passage in Anumang Hiram where he celebrates the discipleship of Martha. He also contrasts the characterization of Martha in the Gospel of John. In her essay, “Scandal in Bethany” (in Babaylan Volume 1), Prof. Lily Ledesma celebrates Mary and her quest for learning and education at the feet of Jesus (a typology that should remind us of Paul learning at the feet of Gamaliel). Two weeks ago, the Juniors in four groups role-played this passage. One group had Martha being portrayed by a man who was busy preparing the meal. The gathered community convinces Martha that the meal can wait so everyone can study together. Everyone then prepares the meal and all share the food, including the audience. Another group situates the interpretation of the passage inside a church building during worship where many of the members of the congregation are, like Martha, distracted by other things: their cellphones, talking with others, or, simply, impatiently waiting for the service to end. A group, broke the fourth wall, by conjuring up a narrator, a lizard (a very big lizard actually) on the wall, filling in the gaps in the familiar story. The fourth group had Martha and Mary reminding Jesus what he taught them, servant leadership, so Jesus actually prepares the meal for the gathered community. I have always believed that God’s greatest gift to UTS is not the land. It is not even the mango trees. It is its people: seminarians, staff, and teachers; the choir who just sang; the middlers who will sing after my message; the sixteen dedicated young women and men whom you have elected to the student government; all of you! The six different interpretations of the same text I just shared with you only help to prove my belief! Now, I would like to share my reading. If we read our Bibles and pray every day, we will grow, grow, grow in the realization that Luke and Acts are a two-part work, like Rizal’s Noli and Fili. Many students of the Bible do not read the Bible, they either read books about the Bible or very small parts. Many seminaries and bible schools are well-known for proof texting. UTS is not one of them. One of the best ways to understand scripture is to read each passage as part of a greater whole. Luke 10:38-42 is part of Luke 10. Luke 10 is part of Luke. Luke is part of Luke-Acts. Liberation Theologians have argued for years that Luke-Acts is the best source for underpinning the church’s preferential option for the poor. Good news is proclaimed to the poor. The Sermon on the Plain declares blessings to the poor and woes to the rich. The rich are challenged to sell everything they have, give all the proceeds to the poor, and follow Jesus. The Acts tell of communities where no one was in need and where ministry to widows and orphans and strangers were a priority. I have previously argued that the Roman Empire was built on five pillars. First. The Legions, 6000 soliders each, protected the borders of the empire. There were 28 Legions. Second. The Roman roads secured communication, transportation, and delivery of goods and services. Third. Power resided on the landed and the rich, where fathers possessed everyone and everything in the family and had power of life and death over each. Fourth. Ideology. Actually, theology. Rome is a gift from the gods, and Caesar was the Son of God. Caesar was LORD. Each subject of the empire was required faithfulness. Pistis. Fides. Fifth. Now those who defied Pax Romana was either jailed, exiled, or executed. Death to enemies of the state came via crucifixion. The first century movement that included Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Peter, Martha and Mary of Bethany, and many others was, I dare say, built on five pillars as well. First, if the Roman Empire had legions to secure the borders of the Roman empire, “God’s empire” had house churches all over, and Martha’s home was one of these. Second, Rome’s economics was built on roads which they guarded and controlled; God’s empire was built on the open table. An open table is where everyone, even those who could not share anything, was welcome to partake of bread, to share wine, to have fellowship. EVERYONE. Third, if Rome’s empire drew its power from the powerful and those who possessed, God’s empire came from the powerless, the poorest of the poor, those whose only hope is God, the dispossessed. Fourth. For Rome, Caesar Augustus was the Son of God. For God’s Empire, Jesus, the carpenter, the Galilean, the one who spoke with a strange Northern accent, was the real SON OF GOD. Jesus, not Caesar, is LORD. Fifth, Rome had the power execute anyone, but God can raise up everyone that the empire executes. In response to Rome’s threat of death and execution, the movement believed in the promise of Resurrection in God’s empire. Read against a backdrop of these pillars of the Basileia movement, we can find historical memory in the passage we are studying: Martha and Mary’s home was a house church, open to everyone. A sanctuary. Martha was involved in the ministry of the open table, Eucharistic table ministry. Jesus’s admonition to her that “there is need for only one” is a reminder to us that, one dish was enough, “tama na ang isang ulam,” especially for the poorest of the poor who were most welcome in these house churches. The fact that Jesus is called LORD three times in the passage reminds us of the movement’s most fundamental, SUBVERSIVE affirmation, JESUS IS LORD AND NOT CAESAR! And what about choosing the better part? But what is the better part? Martha and Mary’s sanctuary was a simple home, not a cathedral most churches today want their worship places to be. Jesus admonished Martha that the open table needed just one dish for everyone, not a feast or a banquet most of us believe are expressions of prosperity and fullness today. Moreover, Jesus’s lordship is not a declaration of absoluteness or greatness but a critique on those who abuse power and oppress the people for life, healing, restoration and resurrection for all. Jesus’s lordship is about taking the side of those who need God the most. The better part is evident in the story before this one: the Samaritan. In the midst of death, pain, suffering, abandonment, indifference, the Samaritan chooses life, healing, restoration. Resurrection. As we come together to share the open table, let us remember what the open table represents. Let us also remember what the affirmation, Jesus is Lord, requires from each of us and from all of us. Moreover, on Monday, July 22, we will be given the privilege to join those whom God has chosen to side with: the farmers, the fisherfolk, the laborers, the masses, those whose only hope is God… outside congress for the People’s SONA. They have much to teach us. We have a lot to learn from them. They will teach us how to struggle for life, for healing, for justice, for liberty, and for land. They will teach us how to celebrate over one simple dish. They will show us what taking sides really means. They will show us the real meaning of rising up and not giving up against all odds. Finally, they will show us what resurrection is really all about. AMEN. Revelation Enriquez Velunta Union Theological Seminary, Philippines 18 July 2013
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