I used to bake pies. I used to bake a lot of pies. I do not really remember why I started. Maybe I took up the challenge implicit in the article I read that said you could tell the skill of a cook by how well they roast a chicken and bake an apple pie. Maybe it was after I learned that my great-grandmother baked a pie for her family every single day. Every. Single. Day.
I did not match my grandmother’s output, but I did bake a lot of pies. I had pie parties with friends when the fruit was ripe and plentiful. We would buy flats of blueberries in July and bushels of apples in October and we would make pie after pie and freeze them to be baked later at Thanksgiving or Christmas or just any time we wanted to eat pie. I am pretty certain that my husband considers these pie years the best years of our marriage.
I do not remember why I started but I do remember why I stopped. The crust. The crust broke me. I tried for years to master it. I tried every recipe possible, shortening, butter, shortening and butter, adding vodka or vinegar to keep it tender. But instead of rolling out smoothly and easily it would crack and break. Instead of being tender and flaky, it became tough from overwork.
And I would get so anxious and angry. I would curse and stress. This thing that I was trying to make which was meant to feed and give pleasure became a source of resentment and anxiety.
So when I read today’s Gospel my heart goes out to Martha. I mean, I know this is not the same as my pie challenges, after all I was making dessert for my family and friends and she was cooking for, you know….God. But I can imagine she is trying so hard to make things just right for Jesus. And the bread has burnt or the goat is tough or she just broke something in the kitchen and she freaks out.
But it is not just tough goat or burnt bread going on here I think. This is far beyond a pie crust tantrum. If you look at the Greek something much bigger is going on. The words in Greek indicate that this is not simply Martha being annoyed or slightly stressed, she is (as one commentator put it) practically in a panic attack.
And that makes sense, right? I mean God showed up in her living room that morning and started sharing. And while we do not know what he was talking about that day, I can imagine it might not have been easy to hear. Maybe he is talking about something hard, something really hard, like about setting his face toward Jerusalem and what will happen there and she tries desperately to ignore that, ignore him.
Because when God shows up, and God always shows up so maybe I should be a little more clear….when we recognize God in our midst, sitting in our living room or knocking on our door as God does in today’s reading from Genesis….it is huge. It is a big thing and it can be as disconcerting and frightening as joyful and wonderful.
I mean, how human are these women? How relatable? When God shows up in their homes they do the things that we humans do when we are confronted with something wild and uncontrollable, something that asks more of us than we think we can handle…we hide in a corner and eaves drop like Sarah and laugh instead of cry when God speaks to our deepest desire and longing. When God asks us to do something hard or listen to a hard truth like ‘I am your friend and I am going to die but death will not have the last word’ we freak out and offer Christ a sandwich.
Because when God shows up we have to recognize that we are not the ones in control. And we can try to fit God into a box, try to double down on our own ideas of what Christ needs from us and forget to listen, to take a breath, to sit a minute. And that is what Jesus is doing, I think, when he suggests Martha be more like Mary, Mary who is sitting and listening.
I do not think that means, though, that what Martha was doing was wrong. Hospitality was an essential part of the culture in which Jesus lived. We see this in the Genesis reading. We see that Abraham offers the best, or at least asks Sarah and his servant to offer the best, he can to God when God comes knocking. And that was culturally expected at the time these stories were written. These were hard places to live and hospitality was a matter of life and death.
So it is worth saying what this Gospel text is not because it has been used badly over the years. This is not a text about women’s behavior. This is not a text that should be used to correct or scold those whose call it is to provide hospitality to others. It is not a blueprint for female discipleship. In fact, I might suggest there is no such thing as female disciples. Just like there are no female doctors or lawyers. There are simply disciples. And this is not a text that should dissuade us from working and offering hospitality to those who show up at our door.
But it is a text that should make us wonder who, ultimately, is offering that hospitality. Because I do not think it is us. In Genesis, while Abraham is ostensibly the host, God knows all about him and Sarah. God offers the one impossible thing to them, a child, and it is not because they provided him with a good meal it is because that is what God does.
And when Jesus whispers ‘Martha, Martha’ perhaps that is an invitation to her and not a scolding, perhaps it is an invitation to all of us. To remember that we are God’s guests here, that Christ is our host and our hope and that it is not our job to take care of God but it is our job to be vulnerable enough to sit down at the feet of Christ and let him take care of us.
Near the end of the Genesis story God says “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggemann suggests that this is not a rhetorical question. He says that it comes as a question because God is looking for an answer from Abraham and Sarah, God is looking for an answer from us. Brueggemann says this is the fundamental question of faith, can we really believe that God can do anything.
Answering yes is hard. Answering yes is stressful because it means you might end up serving dinner to Jesus or having a baby when you are 90 years old. Answering yes means believing that, with God’s help, the impossible is possible. Answering yes means believing that love is stronger than hate, believing that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice no matter how dark things seem, and believing that death leads to new life.
Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?