We Are Cordially Invited…
“Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching;
but Martha was distracted with much serving.”
Come with me, please, to Bethany where we have been invited to enjoy a final banquet with the Lord. For the record, Bethany is a little village that at eventide is in the shadows of the Mount of Olives. It was Jesus’ last stop before he staged for posterity his Triumphal Entry into the Holy City of Jerusalem.
We are invited to dine at the home of Mary and Martha, dear friends of the Lord’s, and they are well aware of the fact that this may well be his last home-cooked dinner, his last supper, if you will.
They had no idea, mind you, that Jesus would dine with his disciples in an Upper Room the following week, a meal that would be forever known as his Last Supper; yet there was a mood of finality in his visit as we will see in the behavior of his hosts.
Our invitation to be there, however, comes from God! You see, the Bible, written over a period of fifteen-hundred years was clearly inspired by a single source ~ the One for whom a thousand years is but a present moment, the Living God.
And we know all the writers of the sacred text were responding to a common source because of the countless themes that run through that book from Genesis to Revelation ~ moving through the ages as though they were impervious to time, revealing a truth that cannot be refuted by the wisdom of the ages, forever making its appeal to the lost souls upon the earth!
Therefore, to my way of experiencing the Bible, it was not Luke’s literary genius that told the story of Jesus in Bethany, but God who wanted the ages to see the experience of Bethany ~ and more than just seeing it, but to enter into it and partake of the very meal that was being prepared for us!
I hope you are gradually getting used to my need to think outside the box when it comes to studying the Bible, because thinking inside the box of traditional interpretations just doesn’t work for me. Limiting my imagination doesn’t let me address the validity of my own spiritual experience of the sacred text!
So let’s join the banquet in Bethany, shall we, at God’s invitation, and think along with me ~ outside the box!
We begin by noting that there are two women who love the Lord very much and both are trying to make an impression on him, each in her own way. Martha is busy in the kitchen fussing over preparations ~ preparing an elegant table, cooking his favorite meal, and filling their humble house with the aroma of what would surely be a memorable meal.
Meanwhile, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, listening intently to his words ~ perhaps sharing his teaching, or reflecting on the effectiveness of his ministry, or even rambling on as weary travelers are wont to do ~ yet her devotion to him was clearly evident by her posture and her attentiveness.
Luke would have us believe that there may have been some jealousy on Martha’s part, for he tells us that suddenly Martha interrupted their intimate conversation by criticizing Mary for not helping her in the kitchen. At this point in my experience of the moment I can feel my heart beat starting to quicken, and I breathe more cautiously, for my twenty-first century perspective realizes that the Lord has been placed in a rather awkward position.
Consider the dilemma! He either offends the radical feminists of the 20th century by agreeing that a woman’s place is in the kitchen, or he offends them even more so by suggesting that Mary’s posture of devotion at his feet is somehow appropriate.
For a guy who could see the future, he could surely see this one coming a mile away! However, in what may have been his most courageous moment, he offered an opinion: Mary has chosen the good portion.
Listen carefully to his response. He didn’t criticize Martha for cooking his favorite meal with devotion, nor did he favor Mary for her devotional behavior. He identified himself as the good portion!
Suppose God invites us to experience the supper in Bethany because it is the key for understanding the Last Supper in the Upper Room.
Could it be that that’s precisely what God wants us to see ~ the Good Portion of the Christ Presence that is forever the essential element in the sacramental mystery of the Last Supper?
There it is, …from outside the box!
Consider it this way: In the Upper Room Jesus made the astonishing claim that his body and blood, that his life and spirit, were in fact a sacramental meal by which the ages of humankind would be nourished. And in Bethany, one was preparing a meal in remembrance of him, and one was celebrating his presence with devotion to him.
In the sacramental mystery of a holy communion in every age and generation since we have celebrated his presence in a meal faithfully and lovingly prepared and devotionally experienced.
“This is my Body,” says Jesus to his followers in this age and in every age; and it is not strange to my imagination to suspect that maybe his thoughts slipped back to a night in Bethany when the essence of his life was being savored by the devotion of one who loved him dearly.
“…Which is broken for you,” he continues for us because his words are timeless. We pause at the thought of his brokenness for us, …until we begin to appreciate that he is gifting himself to us in the only way we can gift ourselves to him, by sharing our brokenness!
“This cup is filled with my Spirit ~ the blood of the covenant,” he declares to each successive generation, “drink of it, all of you, that my Spirit may dwell within you.”
And so in this moment we take bread and break it, pour wine and share it, ever ready to celebrate the Lord’s abiding presence among us, and his everlasting Spirit within us.
Come, all things are now ready.