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Sunday 17 July 2022: Trinity 5, Sixteenth in Ordinary time, Proper 11

In Jesus, we are called to be our fullest selves
Colossians. 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42

By Josie Goodwin
School Chaplain, Assistant Area Dean in Cheltenham & Assistant Diocesan Director of Ordinands in the Diocese of Gloucester

Context: a Service of the Word for a large congregation of students aged 11-18 at an independent girls’ school in the UK. An international community, the congregation includes Christians at various stages of maturity, people of other world faiths, and those with no acknowledged faith
Aim: to recognise God’s call on our choices and achievements

It’s not always easy to know what we are to be in life. When we’re young, many things seem possible, and education encourages us to think big. Some of you may know what you want to do later in life, but many of you will still be pondering. What choices should I make for GCSEs or Sixth Form? What do I want to do with my life after school? These are big questions and sometimes they feel rather daunting!

PAUL’S LORD AND SAVIOUR – MARTHA AND MARY’S FRIEND

There’s no question about Jesus’ life achievements in our reading from Colossians. Saint Paul writes powerfully and convincingly, leaving us in no doubt about Jesus’ significance to the world and us personally. The scene at the home of Martha and Mary presents a stark contrast. Is this the same person Paul described: Jesus visiting friends and mediating a sisterly squabble?

It seems even more of a contrast when we place this short scene – just five verses – at the end of the events of Chapter 10 of Luke’s Gospel. Seventy disciples are sent out to do the work of the kingdom in Jesus’ name and return rejoicing having carried out all sorts of miracles. Directly before the visit to Martha and Mary, Jesus offers controversial teaching in the parable of the Good Samaritan, overturning deeply embedded patterns of hostility in answer to the question ‘who is my neighbour?’

THE TWO SISTERS

But short and simple as the encounter with Martha and Mary seems, there is more to it than we might think. On the face of it, it could be interpreted as a comment on two different personality types. Martha has a lot to do and is busy (many of us will recognise how she feels). Mary seems more contemplative, wanting to sit and listen to their guest. And it’s that description of Mary’s place and posture that points to this as a deeper encounter.

To consider this encounter fully we need to know a little more about the customs of the day. In first-century Palestine, Jesus’s visit would have been a big deal. He was more than a friend dropping in: he was the celebrity of the moment, the Rabbi everyone wanted to hear, and it’s no wonder Martha was in a spin.

The lives of men and women in Jesus’ day would have been more separate than in today’s world. Women would be mostly out of sight, with their own spaces in the house quite separate from the men. They would be responsible for all the domestic preparations and would not have been expected to join the men listening to Jesus.

So, Mary being where she was – seated at Jesus’ feet hanging on his every word – would have been both unexpected and inappropriate. Only those aspiring to become Rabbis themselves could expect to sit at the feet of a teacher like Jesus. Which makes it shocking when Jesus not only takes Mary’s side in the row that flares up but goes on to commend the place she has taken. Whether Mary knowingly adopted the position of someone expecting to be a Rabbi or not (unheard of for a woman at the time), Jesus made it plain nonetheless that she was in her rightful place.

CALLED TO THE FULLNESS OF JESUS CHRIST

The customs of the day are disregarded by the call of God’s Kingdom once again. What might have been a homely encounter between Jesus and two friends becomes transformed. Jesus encourages Mary to be her fullest self, despite the conventions of the day. As we ponder our choices and the paths of our lives, the same is true for us as well. In Jesus, we see the fullness of God, described very vividly by Paul, but Jesus came that we too would have that same fullness.

So, as we think about our choices today and what we might be called to, one thing is clear: in Jesus Christ we, like Mary, are called to be our fullest selves. Life or education or circumstances may shape who we are to some extent, but God’s call on our lives can be unexpected and take us in directions we had not foreseen. As we sit at Jesus’ feet and listen, there is no limit to what is possible with God.

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