A Sermon for The Fifth Sunday after Trinity preached on 17th July 2022 by Graham Low
As we think of the well-known story of Martha and Mary, it is important to remember it’s context. Jesus has set his face towards Jerusalem and towards his passion. Luke indicates that there is a degree of urgency about, but we can easily miss this if we read the story without grasping its wider context. Only then can we begin to make sense of Jesus’ response to the two sisters, a response that could otherwise seem rather unfair. After all, Martha has done the housework while Mary has simply been sitting listening to Jesus. It is important for us to realise that Jesus’ remark to Martha should not be understood as a condemnation of the work she has done, but rather as a comment on her distractedness. It seems that she prefers to be busy doing tasks, which may or may not be essential, rather than spending precious time relaxing and listening to Jesus. Mary, on the other hand, realises that this is a precious opportunity, which is not to be missed. Perhaps she has a sense of what is to come for Jesus.
We are not told what Jesus has spoken about but it nevertheless it seems that Mary is in a more peaceful state than her sister. Quite often when we meet someone these days and ask how they are, their reply is something like “frantic”, “busy” or “rushed off my feet”. In an odd way we may all compete to be the busiest person we know. And yet we protest and say we want some “peace and quiet”. We may perhaps imagine that peace and quiet are to be found in a darkened and silent room. But the gift of peace of which Jesus speaks seems to be more robust. Peace seems to be about consistently making good choices in life. Some of the most peaceful people I know are also rather good at getting through a lot of work, while still remaining quite serene about it. For such people peace is an attitude of mind. Peace is a way of living, which has come about through patient practice, and particular attention to the work of the Holy Spirit.
Some of the richest and most powerful people are among the least peaceful. They often have unreasonable expectations about how smoothly their lives should go, given their money and power. And they can become increasingly agitated and angry because peace eludes them. To achieve peace of mind we need to have realistic expectations, and we need to include acceptance of the things that may go wrong for us.
If we look at the account of Pentecost again we may find Luke-Acts speaking about people hearing each other “speak in our own language about God’s deeds of power”. The most public gift at that first Pentecost may appear to have been the gift of tongues. But careful reading of the text in Acts 2 will show that the particular gift at the first Pentecost was the gift of listening and hearing. Rather than speaking in tongues the first followers of Jesus received the gift of ears, just as Mary had.
Careful listening is in many ways a contemplative activity. We receive before we give. We listen before we speak. Attentive listening honours the other person. It gives them dignity. It is an activity that requires patience and time. It requires complete concentration and an absence of distraction of any kind. It is a process in which the Holy Spirit is active, as the experience of the speaker is transmitted to the listener. This is a process in which both the speaker and the listener can learn something which may be very important for both people. That may very well be what was happening to Mary and Jesus.
May we be granted the grace and the wisdom to speak less and listen more to God and to those we meet and know. Amen.