1. Why does this lection cut-off at verse 10, when the best part of the story comes in 18:11-15? Is this story simply there to give an example of hospitality to go along with the story of Martha and Mary?
If you would like a more fruitful pairing of this story (all 15 verses) with a Gospel text, James Alison has a great one in Raising Abel, pp. 160ff., where he pairs it with Mark 16. When Sarah hears the promise, she laughs; and when God questions her about it, she lies because "she was afraid" (the Greek Septuagint: ephobethe gar). When the women at the empty tomb are confronted with the promise, they didn't tell anyone for they were afraid (Gr: ephobounto gar). He uses this pairing to begin a discussion of Christian hope: "I want to focus on this because there is nothing pretty about Christian hope. Whatever Christian hope is, it begins in terror and utter disorientation in the face of the collapse of all that is familiar and well known." [p. 161] To give you one other crucial paragraph from this chapter as a follow-up:
In the light of all this we can begin to understand Christian hope as an unexpected rupture in the system. What do I mean by system? Every system. As humans we all live and inscribe our lives within a series of systems, of games whose rules we know and to which we adapt ourselves to a greater or a lesser extent. By 'the system' I mean every way of ours of having a story, of organizing our thinking and acting, every way of forging our lives and of talking about them as something sure. And this system is, for many people, most of the time, quite livable. It is moved neither by great hopes nor shaken by great despairs. However, as I have tried to show throughout these pages, every story, in as far as it is grasped, is a system structured by the murderous lie, whose security depends on some exclusion. That is, every system is dominated and shaded by the definitive impossibility which comes from death, the impossibility of moving the stone. [pp. 173-174]
1. James Alison, The Joy of Being Wrong, pp. 94-102. He cites Col. 1:15-20 as one of the basic NT sources that developed the idea of a pre-existent Christ who was part of the divine creativity, a Creation in Christ. The latter is another understanding that came about because of the resurrection.
Girard's anthropology recasts our understanding of myths. Creation myths actually tell the story of how a society was founded, of how order was brought out of the chaos (i.e., a sacrificial crisis). Christ demythologizes those myths with the creation of God's culture around the self-giving victim. I'll let Alison explain:
***** Excerpt from Alison's The Joy of Being Wrong *****
...I am speaking of a simultaneous recasting of the two understandings: that of the resurrection of the dead, and that of creation, in the light of the same understanding: the intelligence of the victim. Thus, in the resurrection accounts of Jesus there has disappeared the element of a divine vindication of Jesus over against his enemies. Jesus' resurrection is not revealed as an eschatological revenge, but as an eschatological pardon. It happens not to confound the persecutors, but to bring about a reconciliation. God is revealed as not partisan, not interested in vindicating any particular group over against its enemies. Rather God is revealed as the self-giving victim of the remaining victimizing tendency of even the chosen people, thus permitting the definitive demythologization of God. God, completely outside human reciprocity, is the human victim. The Father is the origin of the self-giving of the human victim. Thus, far from creation having anything to do with the establishment of an order, what is revealed is that the gratuitous self-giving of the victim is identical with, and the heretofore hidden center and culmination of, the gratuitous giving that is the creation. There is no Christian perception of creation which is not forged through the intelligence of the victim, and principally by the gratuitous self-giving which underlies, and makes possible that intelligence.
This means, of course, that when we speak of creation we are not speaking in the first place of the process by which things came, or come, to be. That description is proper to scientists, especially when they are not limited in their empirical observation by the hidden filters of pagan theological notions (normally held implicitly and unconsciously). It means that when we speak of creation we are speaking of a relationship, a relationship of purely gratuitous giving, without motive, with no second intentions, with no desire for control or domination, but rather a gratuity which permits creatures to share gratuitously in the life of the creator. The relation of gratuity is anterior to what is and has ever been. This perception, the perception that the giving in gratuity is anterior to what is, was made possible by the presence to the disciples of the crucified-and-risen victim, whose self-giving was thus seen to be the way in which creation is a reflection of God: it was the intelligence of the victim that opened up for them the structure of the universe. [pp. 98-99]
Alison develops the same theme on pages 49-56 of Raising Abel. Link
to an excerpt of this section on "Creation
2. Brian McLaren, "The Historical Jesus: What You Focus
on Determines What You Miss," a presentation at a conference
hosted by Richard Rohr's Center for Action and Contemplation, and
available on DVD titled Emerging Church: Christians
Creating and New World Together (see the CAC store for more info).
Focusing primarily on Matthew 16, he concludes with reflections on
Col. 1:15-20. Here are my notes:
3. Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat, Colossians Remixed: Subverting the
Empire. This is a brilliant reading of Paul's
letter in a postmodern context. In conversation with both our
contemporary culture and Paul's first century Jewish experience of
Roman imperialist culture, they provide targum readings of three
portions of the text: 1:1-14, 1:15-20, and 2:8-3:4. Link to an excerpt
of these three targums -- but check out this book and the
excellent commentary that surrounds the targums. This book is
quite simply one of my favorite monographs on a book of the Bible.
1. Gil Bailie, "The Gospel of Luke" audio lecture series, tape #6. Link to my notes and transcription on this portion of Luke's Gospel. These lectures are also now available online in clips; this portion covered by "The Poetry of Truth," Part 67, Part 68.
A basic thesis of Bailie's treatment of this passage is that it
goes with the previous passage about the lawyer's question and the
Parable of the Good Samaritan. The lawyer correctly perceives the
two great commandments -- love God, love neighbor -- but then
jumps to the second commandment about loving neighbor. The Mary
and Martha story complements the parable of the Good Samaritan by
emphasizing the first of these commandments, love of God. For a sermon
that makes use of this insight, link to one entitled "The 'Better Part.'"
2. Robert Hamerton-Kelly,
from July 18, 2010 (Society of St. John at St. Mark's Chapel, Palo
3. Andrew Marr, Abbot of St. Gregory's Abbey
(Three Rivers, MI) is a long-time reader and writer on Mimetic
Theory and in his blog, "Imaginary Visions of
True Peace," posted these reflections of the text, "'Mary
and Martha at the Feet of Jesus."
4. Jeremiah Alberg, Beneath the Veil of the
Strange Verses, pp. 95-97.
5. Tom Truby, a member of Theology & Peace, used Girardian insights to offer a sermon in 2013, titled "Martha's Mistake."
Reflections and Questions
1. Let's take a closer look at Martha's problem in this text. Actually, we might identify at least three ways in which she has become anxious and distracted. (1) She has taken on too many "tasks" (Gr: diakonia; "ministries"). (2) She is in rivalry with her sister, focused on what Mary is or isn't doing. (3) She employs the age-old tactic of trying to triangle someone else into her relationship with her sister, asking Jesus to take her side and intervene -- in other words, to unify themselves against Mary.
Jesus doesn't bite and gently chides Martha to take the "better part," the better course for steering clear of the unproductive way she has chosen. Martha should imitate Mary's focus on learning from Jesus the way of steering clear of rivalries. He is the one person above all in whom our focus and fascination can begin to untangle us from our webs of rivalry. He is the one who came to do the desire of his Father without rivalry. When we learn to imitate him, we become more focused on what is most needful to do, the most needful tasks of ministry (diakonia). We are more apt to notice those who are half-dead and to respond with compassion, as did the Good Samaritan. Our distractedness from too many tasks can find the true priorities for service. And being rooted in Jesus also helps us to begin to disentangle from our many rivalries -- without triangling Jesus into them. No, when we are able to attend to a healthy relationship with Jesus, we can find the healthier ways to more directly attend to and mend our relationships with others.
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