|Pen and Ink Reflections||
This is a well known but in some ways seriously annoying story, and I blame Luke – to say nothing of centuries of largely male, monastic interpretation - which can basically be summarised as ‘Hurrah Mary’ and ‘Boo Martha’. Or more aggressively as ‘stop complaining and pray harder’! Anyone out there feel like they’d like to muster at least a small cheer for Martha? Hurrah! This is a story that has been used as a means of social control in church and state, and a means of silencing the voices of women. For the very way this story is constructed, tends to make us choose sides. So, whether we are sympathising with Martha and feeling she’s a bit hard done by, or cheering Mary for breaking the gender stereotype, it is hard to remain neutral. The story itself sets up the two supposed sisters in opposition to one another...
It is very helpful to think about the beginning of Jesus’s ministry from the perspective of Peter’s mother-in-law. For her story, like those of so many women in the Bible and Christian tradition, tends to get passed over and forgotten. Yet today's text involving her includes, in three verses, three of the most foundational words in the history of the early church. They are very obvious in Greek, rather easier to miss in English. So what are these words?...
How do you picture peace? I wonder if your vision is quite the same as that of the prophet Isaiah in the John the Baptist story in our Gospel reading today? Isaiah says this: “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Well, that definitely doesn’t work for me if it were taken at all literally. For I was born in the North Pennine hill country of England, which owes so much of its life, history, wildness and picturesque beauty to the variety of its landscape, its hills and valleys. I certainly know that the folk of the Durham Dales would do all they possibly could to avoid every valley being filled, every hill being made low, and the winding paths and rough ways being made smooth. I suspect too that few people in Toowoomba would take kindly to such an environmental transformation of our own Range, valleys, hills and landscape. No. On this second Sunday in Advent, as we centre on the theme of peace, we need to look deeper if we are to find fuller meaning in today’s Gospel reading. Perhaps we are helped by re-casting Isaiah’s words a little. To that end, I offer some words of the great El Salvadorean archbishop and martyr Oscar Romero: words which I believe catch up the spirit of the Advent prophets, that “Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity. It is right and it is duty.” Let me return to that, and to John the Baptist in our Gospel, again, in a moment…
So when it comes to God, to ministry, to mission, how much is too much? This is a question posed by our Gospel reading today, and perhaps in the back of our minds as we embark on our stewardship campaign this week.
We are only into the third chapter of Mark's gospel. Jesus Ministry and mission has barely begun- and yet already from the religious authorities and his own close family the cry is going up 'too much, too much, he's got a demon, he's gone mad, we've got to restrain him'. What has provoked this extreme response? Essentially Jesus has declared that the sabbath is made for human beings and not human beings for the sabbath, and dared to heal on the sabbath day. Promptly the religious authorities sensing a threat to their power base, have set out to destroy him. Moreover they have persuaded his family to take action – probably by threatening them with expulsion from the Jewish community unless they do so. The common people however love him - he is proclaiming a faith that works for them; a faith that is not bound by rules and traditions, but open to the generous movement of the Spirit. So the crowd are pressing in on him so badly that he has had to take to a boat for fear of being crushed, and is finding it hard even to eat. In these circumstances it would have been fair enough for Jesus himself to have declared' this is too much', but He does not do so...