Homily on Luke 10:38-42 for All Saints/All Souls Sunday by Pastor Galen
Mary was one of those people who just never fit neatly into a box. As a young Jewish girl growing up in first century Palestine, she was in many ways an anomaly. Independent, enthusiastic and passionate, she was one of those people who lived life to the fullest, and didn’t care what others thought about her.
Because of the time in which she lived, she was most likely not allowed to go to school. And so I imagine that when her older brother Lazarus came home from school each day, she quizzed him incessantly about everything he had learned at school that day. Math, science, history, the Torah – she wanted to learn it all.
And even though she herself was not allowed to go to school and learn, I imagine that she dreamed of becoming a teacher herself one day. And every day, after hearing all about the things that Lazarus learned at school, she would arrange her toys in a circle her and sit down to teach them, drawing letters and numbers in the dirt and instructing her toys to repeat after her, in the same way Lazarus described a typical day at his school.
If indeed Mary was someone who had always wanted to learn but who had been prohibited for attending school, it’s not hard to imagine why, as a young adult, when Mary heard that a traveling Rabbi was coming to her town – a Jewish teacher who was known for including anyone and everyone in his ragtag group of followers – that she was right there, hanging on every word that he said. And I imagine too that when the call was given to go out and participate in proclaiming his message, that Mary was one of the first to sign up.
Sitting at the Feet of Jesus
But of course Mary’s out-of-the-box personality was not always well received by those around her. In Luke chapter 10, when Mary was “sitting at the feet of [the rabbi] Jesus,” – her sister Martha complained that Mary was leaving her to do all of the work by herself.
Now, saying that someone “sat at the feet” of a rabbi was another way of saying that that person was the rabbi’s disciple, or follower. In Acts 22:3, for example, Paul mentions that he studied “at the feet of” the famous Jewish rabbi Gamaliel. It doesn’t mean that Paul was always literally sitting at the feet of Gamaliel. But rather it’s a way of saying that Gamaliel was his instructor, and the expectation was that Paul would one day help further and perpetuate the teachings of his rabbi.
And so when Luke tells us that Mary “sat at Jesus’s feet and listened to what he was saying” and that Martha was upset because Mary had left her to do all of the work by herself, it’s possible that Martha was upset because Mary has been off traveling around with the other disciples, teaching and proclaiming the message of Christ. Earlier in Luke 10, Jesus sent out 72 of his disciples 2 by 2 to proclaim the message of the Kingdom of God. We don’t know the names of all of those disciples, but given the proximity of these two stories, and Martha’s complaint about Mary leaving her to do all the work, it’s possible that Mary had been one of those disciples who had been sent out.
But even more upsetting than the fact that Mary had left her to do all of the work, Martha is most likely upset that Mary is refusing to play by the rules, refusing to fit into the box. Mary was not conforming to the prescribed gender roles of the day. She was acting in ways that were deemed inappropriate for women of her day in broader society. And yet, Jesus affirms Mary’s right to be his disciple – affirms her right to learn, and by extension to be someone who participates in proclaiming the message to others as well.
This wasn’t the only time that Mary was criticized for being at the feet of Jesus. In John 12, another time when Jesus was visiting their home, Mary anointed Jesus’s feet with costly perfume – a lavish and intimate act of love and devotion, which the apostle Judas criticized for being wasteful. There too Jesus came to Mary’s defense, affirming her act of love and devotion, affirming her right to be a disciple – to worship God with all of who she was, and to give all that she had in worship and devotion to Christ.
All Saints/All Souls
Today is All Saints and All Souls Sunday, when we remember and give thanks for all of those who have gone before. In particular, we think of those people of faith who modeled for us what it looks like to be passionate followers of Christ. Today is also a joyous occasion, as we welcome new professing members of our church through baptism and confirmation, who will commit to being loyal to Christ and participating in the ministries of our church through their prayers, their presence, their gifts, and their service.
And I think that Mary is a wonderful model for us as we think about our own walks with God and the type of saints we may aspire to be. Because Mary was sort of an “everyday” saint. She isn’t known for performing miracles, or saving multitudes of people. She isn’t known for being perfect – not that any of us are. Mostly what she is known for is for being someone who sat at the feet of Jesus, someone who was a passionate and devoted follower of Christ. And someone who was willing to give all that she had in Christ’s service.
Mary is the type of saint that any of us can be. Because no matter who we are, or what we’ve done or failed to do, we too can sit at the feet of Jesus – we too can be disciples who learn and share. Sometimes that’s just showing up – honoring God with our presence. Sitting in church, participating in worship, actively listening to the message. It also means taking an active role in learning – reading or listening to Scripture on our own, studying the Bible for ourselves. And it involves sharing what we’ve learned with others.
The “protege effect” is an educational theory that posits that the best way to learn is to teach. When we share what we’ve learned with others, we develop a better understanding, and retain knowledge longer than if we simply read or listen and try to retain the knowledge. As the Roman Philosopher Seneca said: “While we teach, we learn.”
In Mary too we also see an interesting model of what it looks like to serve, as she poured herself out in love and devotion to God. The point of the story about Mary and Martha is not that Martha was doing the wrong thing for serving Jesus behind the scenes. Indeed, we can and should aspire to serve God in practical ways. But Martha’s mistake was in criticizing Mary for the way that Mary was living out her calling. In our service of Christ we need to be careful not to criticize others for following Christ in ways that might be different from ours. We each have unique roles to play in the Church – we are all called to serve, but not alk in the same way.
And finally, in Mary, we see a model of someone who gave her all to Jesus. Pouring out her expensive perfume, anointing Jesus’s feet in preparation for his impending crucifixion on the cross was a way of demonstrating that she was “all in” – holding nothing back. This, I believe, is the most remarkable trait of those followers of Christ that we look up to and admire. They were people who were passionately devoted to God, who were willing to give all of who they are to God, holding nothing back. This means that every moment of our day, whether we are working or sleeping, or playing, or hanging out with friends – can and should be done to the honor and glory of God.
And so this morning, as we remember and name those saints and all those souls who have gone before, and as we welcome new professing members of our congregation – may we follow in the footsteps of Mary and those saints who have gone before. May we recommit ourselves to sitting at the feet of Jesus – to actively learning and absorbing all that we can – and to sharing that with others – to pointing others to the saving grace and mercy of God, offered freely to all. Like Mary, may we not be so concerned with what others might think about us, but rather may we recognize our utter need and dependence on God, and respond in worship. May we too be known as people who were passionately in love with Jesus, and who were willing to pour ourselves out in love and devotion to God and God’s purposes in this world.