Choosing the Better Part — A Lectionary Reflection


Amos 8:1-12

Colossians 1:15-28

Luke 10:38-42

Choosing the Better Part

At one level the three lectionary texts for this week have little in common. Amos is a strongly worded statement of judgment and call to justice. Colossians presents a hymn of praise to the Christ, the one who bears the image of the invisible God and is the first born of creation, through whom we have reconciliation with God – and if Christ’s efforts aren’t enough, the author (named here as Paul) will fill in the gaps with his own suffering on behalf of the letter’s recipients. Finally, you have the famed story of Mary and Martha, in which Martha becomes just a bit peeved with Jesus for not telling Mary to get back in the kitchen. And yet, perhaps there is a thread, mostly invisible that ties these texts together. They are a call to embrace the better part, it is a reminder that we should listen for the voice of God and not get so distracted with the business of life that we miss what is important – whether is justice for the poor, praise of the one who has reconciled us, or just resting and listening quietly. What do you hear as you contemplate each of these statements?

Consider the message Yahweh presents to Amos, the prophet of God residing in the northern kingdom of Israel. You hear in this passage God’s frustration with the people. He’s given up, because they won’t listen. They’re too busy making a buck off the poor and the needy. They can’t wait until the holy days and the Sabbath are so they can get back to work scamming the unsuspecting. And so there is judgment to be heard. It is time for mourning and sackcloth. God’s blessings will be removed and so famine and death will be in the land. The people “shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but they will not find it” (Amos 8:12). It is too late. They go looking for this word from God, but they’re not willing to listen. The word is already present and they ignored it, as they bought off the poor with silver and the needy with a pair of sandals. Yes, there will be a famine, not only in terms of food, but also in the presence of God’s word.

From Amos, and his word of judgment, we turn to the Colossian letter with its glorious celebration of God’s revelation of God’s self in the in the one who bears God’s image, is the first born of creation, in whom all things were created and in whom all things hold together. What a glorious sight this is, so different from the gloom of Amos’s word. For the author of Colossians Christ is the head of the body (church), the first born of the dead – that is the pioneer of resurrection, in whom God dwells fully. It is he, through whom God reconciles all things, bringing an end to the judgment that stands upon the land. Those who were estranged are now reconciled. The natural outcome of this revelation is to become a servant of God, making known God’s word – yes that elusive word that Amos’ audience couldn’t seem to locate, it is now there for the taking. The mysteries of God that had been hidden, they’re now revealed. The reason, so that they might present everyone to God as mature in Christ.

Finally we arrive at the home of Martha, a home that is shared with a younger sister named Mary. Unlike in John’s gospel the sisters don’t seem to have a brother. It’s just the two of them, and they are blessed to host Jesus in their home. Martha, ever the good host, does what she can to make him comfortable and moves on to preparing a meal. All of this is quite appropriate. Hospitality is expected in that culture. I’m not sure whether Martha is pulling out all the stops, but she is concerned about making a good impression. Unfortunately, her sister has other interests and ideas, and she’s not present in the kitchen. Instead, she is sitting at the feet of the teacher. She’s listening, learning, hearing that revelation of the mysteries of God, that the author of Colossians reveled in.

Are we ready and able to choose the better part – the way of justice, the way of reconciliation, the way of God’s word – or are we too busy to care?

Bob Cornwall is Pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Troy, MI and Editor ofSharing the Practice, the journal of the Academy of Parish Clergy. Holder of a Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, he loves to write, having authored several books, with a book on the Lord’s Prayer due out in November.  Besides contributing to this blog, he writes nearly every day at his personal blog Ponderings on a Faith Journey, as well as contributing regularly to the Christian Century blog Theolog.

By Bob Cornwall

Bob Cornwall is Pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Troy, MI and Editor ofSharing the Practice, the journal of the Academy of Parish Clergy. Holder of a Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, he loves to write, having authored several books, with a book on the Lord’s Prayer due out in November.  Besides contributing to this blog, he writes nearly every day at his personal blogPonderings on a Faith Journey, as well as contributing regularly to the Christian Century blogTheolog.

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4 thoughts on “Choosing the Better Part — A Lectionary Reflection

  1. Since happening on to this site a few weeks ago, I have enjoyed catching up. All postings have meant something to me and Bob’s reflections on the lectionary have been wonderful. Thank you for this morning’s reflection.

    I am in elder at the Robinson First Christian Church in Robinson, IL, and currently serving on our search and call committee. Pastors who are in the process may want to request our profile from the Robinson region, as I think that where this congregation has been and where it is at now make it an interesting challenge/opportunity for pastors who are energized by the dialogue of the emerging church.

  2. As always, this is good stuff.

    I preached on the Mary/Martha story for the mid-week services. I’ll have to come up with something else for Sunday.

    Since I preach in a hospital/nursing home, I keep the sermon very short and simple. I used a puritan plain style approach and focused on Mary and Martha representing two differenty styles of spirituality. I talked about how we need both. We need both as a Church community, but we also need both within our own lives. We need to get our hands dirty like Martha, but if we don’t spend time in study/prayer/contemplation, we will burn out. Besides, what really matters is relationship with Divine and one another. For an illustration I had us reflect on holiday family get-togethers. The purpose of intimacy with those we love, but it is easy to get distracted with all the preparation.

    Anyhoo – That’s how I ran with it. It seemed to really resonate for the service with the mental health patients. I’m not so sure it resonated as much with the nursing home folks.

  3. I’m chosing to look at this as a wisdom story–comparing Col. to the Prov. chapter it seems to echo about Wisdom (Prov. 8:22-31) which I call the third Creation story, and Mary/Martha as a wisdom teaching of the Whole person. We are called into wisdom as our natural state with Christ.

  4. Bob,
    Thanks for your insight on drawing conclusions that link the lectionary passages.
    I, for one, tend to look at the passages in the larger story of the work in which they are found. For example, in the gospel passage, the placement of this story directly after the story of the good Samaritan with no commentary following suggests to me that there are parallels to be found in the two stories.
    I was delighted to discover how Martha puts Jesus on the spot, just as the lawyer tried to do in the previous pericope. Also, just as Jesus seeks to empower and include the outcasts in the previous story, so too is he not only liberating Mary from oppressive cultural expectations, but also restoring dignity to Martha for her contributing to the oppression in her finger-pointing blame mentality through which she seeks to hide.

    Sorry for the long post. Would love to continue correspondence.
    In peace,
    Kathleen Lambert, pastor of Woodlawn PC, St Petersburg, FL

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