What Will I Learn Today?

Luke 10:38-42 – The 9th Sunday after Pentecost – for Sunday, July 17, 2016

“One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part. It won’t be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:42)

Long before Lycra . . .
Long before Lycra . . .

“Good morning!” the helmeted babe said as she sped by me.

Her blonde hair spilled from the underside of the slick, plastic headgear. With legs pumping the pedals, and her shoulders bent over the handlebars, she settled in ahead of me. I kept pace. We were moving north on a flat Fresno street, our bikes in the middle of a generously wide designated bike path.

I admired the view. Here’s the truth. I’m a happily married guy. But I have base, primal, male, heterosexual instincts. And so, for long seconds, I stared at the young lady in front of me, admiring the way high-tech Lycra helps bike shorts snugly fit her body. Spandex forever, I say!

Then, something deeper than Lycra-spawned-lust scratched at an itch in my primitive brain. How dare that cornstalk slender, proclaimer of cheery greetings, youngish female pass me! How dare she casually relegate me to second place! I dug deeper and increased my speed, committing myself to providing Ms. Good Morning with a view of my XXL-sized, Lycra-stretching lumpy derriere.

Competition trumped lust. I huffed and puffed and put a good city block between our two bikes. Take that you uppity blonde biker! Gray-haired old guys rule!

I returned to a steady pace, ahead of her, and then . . .

“Hey, dude,” the helmeted fellow said as he sped by me.

I did not admire the new view. Here’s the truth. I’m an ordained minister, personally and professionally considerate of others. But I have base, primal, human instincts. And so again, the urge to compete, the singular desire to let this “dude” see a full 3D version of my rear in gear inspired me to race ahead. Huff and puff, I did. Muscles strained while my lungs scooped gulps of oxygen like a kid at a Baskin & Robbins saying yes to every flavor.

Faster pastor!

I returned to a steady pace, keeping ahead of Mr. Dude (and Ms. Blonde), chewing up the miles. And then . . .

I started wondering how I could be such a jerk. How is it that certain primitive instincts easily surface and hijack my reactions? Like: survival of the fittest, flight or fight, lust, and greed. I fight those feelings and reactions. Sometimes I am the enlightened traveler, but sometimes I pedal awful hard to get ahead of others. I remember the times I’ve chosen to serve others, rather than to be served. As Francis of Assisi proclaimed in his wondrous prayer: for it is in giving that we receive. I struggle to replace my urge to compete with a longing to help others, to leave behind the primitive notions of win-or-lose so that I can strive for building and nurturing community.

And then, in the early mornings before and after that (silly and immature) one-sided bike race on the mean streets of Fresno, I read about Mary and Martha in Luke’s Gospel.

How odd the story is. Jesus arrived. He’s a guest. Luke even hints that Mary and Martha’s place is like a home-away-from-home. When Jesus knocked at this door, he’d always be welcome. Come in, stay a while, put your feet up, settle around the table for wine and a hearty meal. I hope everyone has homes-away-from-home, where there’s always a chair at the table for you. And yet, Luke describes such an unsettling reaction between the two women. Isn’t Martha doing what she should do? She’s working hard. She’s serving others. All of the monotheistic faiths—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—urge believers to reject the basic, primal urge to serve your self so that you can serve others . . . isn’t that what Martha did?

Oh sure, she complained a bit.

And yes, her many chores were a distraction. (See, multi-tasking was a burden even in the first century.)

But really, doesn’t dear, sweet Martha get a bad rap? No easy answer here from me. In this brief, intimate story, how has her sister Mary “chosen the better part?”

Years ago, when I served as a hospice chaplain, a colleague made a comment that continues to be a challenge (and blessing). Bob, the social worker, had been a long-time veteran of hospice care. Fellow workers saw him as the go-to guy for questions. Social workers at other hospices called to ask Bob for advice. His role with patients and families included interpreting their medical benefits and providing emotional and psychological support. He’d seen it all, as we say.

But one day, leaving to visit a family, I overheard him declare, “I wonder what I’ll learn today?”

Wow. The man that “knew it all” knew there was always more to know. At least that’s how I viewed his words.

Less racing, more learning?
Less racing, more learning?

How many Martha-like distractions prevent me from listening and learning from others? On I struggle. Lust, competition, and even Martha’s busyness are all clever and compelling. I fight. I take flight. Still, in the peculiar intimacy of an encounter between Jesus and his two friends, I glimpsed the better choice.

What might I learn today about others (and about me) if I don’t race ahead?

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  1. Oh boy, that scripture always makes me smile.

    At one point in my life I was asked to teach Sunday school, 3rd graders. It only took the pastor about 3 months to figure out I was not a good choice for the job. I think he figured it out after the 2nd Sunday but it took him 3 months to find someone else to take the class.

    I am an outside the box person. If it’s been done that way, I am going to try something else. Like your guy, I love to learn something new and I enjoy sharing that experience with others and there is where I usually get in trouble.

    I was popular with the 3rd graders but not so much with the elders. I brought a lot of grief to the poor pastor and in fairness to everyone… I was 15 and I think they assumed that I was just there to watch the kids while the parents were in church, not try and do anything. I took the title teacher seriously and as we all know, teens don’t always think through their choices. The scripture for that Sunday was Luke 10: 38-42. I went with a social experiment and used this scripture. I rewrote the scripture using men’s names in the Mary and Martha roles. I asked the question about whether Tom (Mary) or Dick (Martha) made the better choice and the kids had no trouble agreeing that it was Tom. Removing the traditional expectations of women’s roles in society made Tom smart and Dick was criticized for not taking advantage of the time with Jesus. The kids left with most of the scripture memorized except the names were changed and I wonder now how much that messed them up later in life. I thought, with my 15 year-old brain, that I’d given them something interesting to discuss with their parents, and I felt I had a valid point, just not the one the story (and Jesus) was trying to make. I had long suffering parents who thought they believed in free thought until I was released upon the masses. We had a long talk about running things by them before teaching it to my class. It was not the final straw in my short tenure as a Sunday school teacher but it was definitely a strike.

    1. Ha!

      Loved your memory.

      Once I spent a lot of time trying to recruit people to teach Sunday School. If they had acted like you (willingly gone into the classroom and then “corrupted” young minds), I would have quickly put them on the do-not-ask list!!!!

      In seriousness, it is fascinating when we make a few “little” changes to familiar stories and then a whole new world opens up. We too often prefer the safe, but the Biblical stories and tales and memories were more often designed to upset rather than to comfort.

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