by the Reverend Noel E. Bordador
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
My aunt who I lived with when I first came to the U.S. told me a story about her migration to the U.S. in the 1950s. One of the first things she did was to go on tours to different parts of the country, and one of these places was down south. Mind you this was the 1950s. She boarded a bus and sat at the back of the bus but the driver yelled at her, saying “Now lady, this bus is not going to move unless you come up front. The back of the bus is for negroes. And you are not a negro.” While we have certainly made progress in racial equality since then, one could still argue that we have a lot more work to do. Racism still is with us as also is the disparity in access to needed resources between whites and people of color. Another story, and this you should know by now. In 1974, a bunch of rebellious Episcopal bishops got together and ordained well-suited and well-prepared women to the priesthood. Before that, women were not allowed to be priests. This forced the Church into a conflict but eventually it got around to accepting the ordination of these women. Except these eleven women found it hard to get a position in a parish. No one seem to want them EXCEPT one rather peculiar priest, Fr. Bill Wendt, in Washington DC who took one of these women priests and shared the Altar with her.
Our society is very mindful about the need to put people in their place, in their proper place. People are often assigned a particular social and economic place, and often, there is some backlash if people pushed through beyond these socially established boundaries. For example, blacks are often expected to live in particular neighborhoods and it raises eyebrows when they come to neighborhoods that are not “theirs.” Not too long ago, I went to a place upstate not known for its racial diversity and when I went dinner in a restaurant, I heard a woman comment that there was now a “Chinaman” in the restaurant, and that made me feel “out of place.” It was meant to signal to me that I have somehow challenged and transgressed that community’s racial convention. We speak about the gender glass ceiling in the work place to take note that that women are not allowed to go beyond a certain socioeconomic space.
Why was Martha so upset with Jesus? What did Jesus do to her? When we read the Gospel today, we might simply think that it was a case of Martha needing more help in the kitchen, Mary as slacking off, and Jesus letting Mary off the hook from her chores. The story goes that Jesus and his disciples came to visit his friends Martha and Mary, and Martha welcomed them into their house. In that culture, women and men are not allowed to socialize and fraternize with each other. It wasn’t proper for women to be in the place where men are. So Martha goes into the kitchen. She did the right thing by her culture’s standards. Mary, however, did not leave the men. So she was not doing right by her culture’s standards, and neither was Jesus who allowed Mary to stay with him and his friends. Martha took note of this. When she asked Jesus to dismiss her sister and send her back to the kitchen to help her, it was really meant to get her out of the place where she did not belong. But Jesus challenged her back saying that Mary had every right to be where she wanted to be. Jesus was challenging social discrimination.
In 2016, our former Presiding Bishop, Edmond Browning, passed away. He was a Presiding Bishop who did not shy away from challenging discrimination of all sorts in our church and society. He fought against racism within the church and beyond its walls.
Elected as Presiding Bishop in the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis, he fought for the acceptance of persons living with HIV/AIDS within the church and the nation. He fought for a full inclusion of the gays and lesbians in the church. For these he was maligned and criticized. But he never wavered from his belief in the inclusive and welcoming love of Christ. He is famous for saying “There will be no outcasts.” The Gospel challenges us to look into our lives and see who we ostracize from our presence, who do we cast out from our midst- perhaps of their skin color, or social standing or disability or sexual orientation. And how do we- as individual Christians, and as a church- practice Jesus’ inclusive welcome and love so that there will be no outcasts?
©2018 Noel E. Bordador
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