July 14, 2013: Faith in, Dysfunctional Families

Posted on : Jul 11th, 2013 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

The Dysfunction continues, as we discover FAITH in, some of the most dysfunctional families in the bible.

Last Sunday we focused on Joseph and his dysfunctional family, and found tremendous faith and grace in a family that is as dysfunctional as the “Kardashians.” This Sunday we’ll focus on the story of two competing sisters, Mary and Martha (and their brother, Lazarus).

Mary and Martha embody sibling rivalry.  They are as different as night and day, and they have fights with each other just as all sisters do.  From the outset, I’ll give you one intriguing fact about this story:  it is NOT about what you think it is about!

This story, as it is traditionally told, is about two sisters, Mary and Martha, who live in the village of Bethany.  Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus are extremely close to Jesus.  Whenever Jesus is anywhere near Bethany, Jesus stays in their home.  Now that in and of itself is not unique.  In the world in which Jesus lived, there were no Motel 6’s where “we’ll leave the light on for you.”  When people traveled, they were at the mercy of strangers to welcome them – to provide hospitality for them.  This was especially important for people of the Jewish faith because their dietary and religious customs/laws really depended on them staying in “kosher” homes to keep kosher.  But it is clear from the many stories in the Bible, that Jesus was more than a house-guest in Martha and Mary’s home.  Jesus, Martha, Mary and Lazarus are what we would call “a family of choice.”  They are not a biological family, but they are family!

Another interesting fact about this family is that it is headed by women.  It’s referred to as Martha’s home, not Lazarus’.  That’s strange because usually in the bible a house belongs to a man and is designated by a male’s name.  However, that’s not the case with this home!  This home is “women’s space.”

Then again, Mary and Martha are not your average women.  It appears Mary and Martha are women of wealth in that they own their own home and regularly welcome guests into their home.  They also don’t seem to have any interest in getting married, which is very unusual and which under “normal circumstances” would have been expected of them in their early teens.  They also push gender roles, as you can see from the story below.

An interesting note:  in the bible, the name given to a person often defines their “function” or “persona” in life.  In this story,

Martha in Greek means “lady of the house.”

Mary means “wise woman” or “lady” (as in the British usage of ‘My Lady’ referring to the female head of the house).  Mary is a Greek form of the Hebrew Miriam or Mariam. It was a popular name at the time of Jesus, possibly because of it was the name of the beautiful young Jewish princess Mariamme, married to King Herod the Great and murdered by him on a false charge of infidelity. Naming your child Mary or Miriam was a not-too-subtle protest against Herod and what he had done.

Lazarus means “God has given help.”

In this story, Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, the Rabbi, listening to and learning from him.  She is the quintessential “eager to learn” student who “soaks up” every word Jesus says.  She is however, a woman, and women were not allowed to “sit at the feet of a Rabbi!”

Martha on the other hand, is busy in the kitchen preparing meals for the family and the entourage that normally accompanied Jesus (the disciples and followers).   Martha really wants to be sitting at Jesus’ feet too and gets really ticked off that her sister Mary, is just sitting there listening to Jesus while she is working her tail off in the kitchen preparing meals.  Knowing that she’s not going to convince her sister to come and help her, she confronts Jesus.  Obviously, Jesus is “family” and this is about to turn messy!  [The Kardashians 2.0?]

Martha storms in and confronts Jesus:  “Rabbi, don’t you care that my sister has left me all alone to do the household work?  Tell her to help me!”

Jesus responds in what might seem a rather callous way:  “Martha, Martha!  You’re anxious and upset about so many things, but only a few things are necessary – really only one.  Mary has chosen the better part, and she won’t be deprived of it.”

That’s where the Biblical story ends, but you and I know dishes were flying and tempers were roaring.  I guarantee you, that was NOT the end of the conversation!

Many biblical scholars have used this story to support the “servant” role of women in the church.  That is, “Keep ‘em in the kitchen.”  But that it not at all what this story is about. This story is about strong, independent women.  It’s about the end of gender inequality.  It is a story equal to the Supreme Court’s two decisions granting marriage equality.

But even more than that, it is about turning “mourning into dancing!”  It’s about how Jesus sets us free from everything that binds us, and puts us down or devalues our personhood.

I invite you to join me this Sunday as we turn our mourning into dancing!  We have a couple really fine surprises in this Sunday’s worship!



~ This Sunday’s Scriptures ~

Luke 10: 38-42

In the course of his journey, Jesus came to the village of Bethany where a woman named Martha invited him to her home.  Her sister, Mary, sat at Jesus’ feet, completely absorbed in his teaching.

Martha, overwhelmed with preparing the food, complained to Jesus, saying: “Do you not care that my sister has left me to serve you by myself?  Tell her, please, to help me.”

“Martha, Martha,” Jesus replied, “You are anxious and fretful about too many things.  One thing alone is essential.  Mary has chosen wisely.  There is no need for her to change.”

(from:  “WomenWord, a Feminist Lectionary of Women in the New Testament” by Miriam Therese Winter

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