Being vs Doing

Homily St Michael and All Angels Urchfont, 21st July 2019 8am
Fifth Sunday after Trinity: Colossians 1.15-28, Luke 10.38-42

martha maryThis morning we hear two very different readings. Paul in his letter to the Colossians speaks in abstract theology about the image of the invisible God. He reflects on Jesus’ divine nature, the Word that was from the beginning and was made flesh. The mystery at the heart of our faith. In our Gospel reading from Luke – the familiar story of Martha and May –, however, we encounter once more the human side of Jesus. The man who was always concerned about others, who spoke with a wisdom which we can still hear today. Indeed, in Paul’s words, that is how the image of the invisible God is displayed: through Christ in all his divinity and all his humanity.

That means that wisdom is not necessarily something that is difficult to understand. To be wise is not the same as to be learned. And so the message contained in the short Gospel passage is simple, yet significant and profound.

On his travels, Jesus visits the house of Martha and Mary, two of his friends and Lazarus’ sisters. Martha welcomes him, but then goes back to the household tasks she was doing. Mary, however, sits at Jesus’ feet and listens. Martha complains, but in turn Jesus rebukes her by saying that Mary has chosen the better part. It is a familiar story, and not hard to picture in our minds.

The first message we hear is that sometimes ‘being’ is more important than ‘doing’: there is a time and a place for both. This is a message we cannot her often enough in a society that is driven by achievement and accomplishment. I know that I am not the only one who finds it difficult to justify doing nothing, even if it is just for an afternoon. But if we don’t, we may lose our ability to listen to what God is really saying to us, so indeed, sometimes we need to just sit and listen.

Staying a little longer with the Gospel passage, we see that there is more to it than only the message that there is a time for ‘being’ and a time for ‘doing’. We notice that Jesus visits the house of two women, something that would not have been as normal as it may seem in our time. What strikes me is that he sees both women as real people. He does not treat them as secondary, as objects, defined by their role and status. No, in contrast, by saying that Mary has chosen the better part, he is saying that Mary has chosen to accept Jesus’ invitation to listen, to be a person. Martha still feels that she needs to conform to her role, the person who does the work, but Mary accepts the invitation to the freedom to which each of us is called.

That is maybe an even more important message, both historically and today. That we cannot know people by defining them, but only by relating to them. We only really get to know someone if we listen and interact, and for that we need a relationship. That is a challenging and difficult task, as our nature is to categorise people as we see them. We too easily judge people like objects, by their looks, status and appearance. Of course, there is sometimes a need for this in reality, but Jesus is challenging our day-to-day assumptions and behaviour.

So next time we meet someone, let us try to refrain from judgement until we have listened. Let us not think about their age, gender, shoes and what not, but approach them with an as open mind as possible. Because, just as Jesus is the image of the invisible God, so we believe that we too are made in the image of the same God. God’s work in the world didn’t stop when Jesus ascended into heaven, but continued in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. God’s work continues with us. So let’s try, not only to do our best, but to be our best: God’s beloved children, made in His image and redeemed by His Son.

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