Jesus Offers Freedom
21 July 2019 –– Proper 11, Lectionary 16
The decisions we make about our behavior frequently have more to do with us and our inner state or preoccupation than about what is going on around us. Martha was not able to comprehend the big picture of Jesus’ life and numbered days, therefore, she was not aware of the need to play a role different from her usual role of chief cook and bottle washer. Martha was distracted by her need to produce a meal and by her inability to control her sister. Clearly, she was missing the point, as we are all prone to do from time to time.
The good news in this story is the freedom Jesus offered to both sisters: for Martha, the freedom to let go of her anxiety and worry, in order to spend time enjoying the company Jesus offered at that moment (but did Martha accept it?); for Mary, the freedom to soak in the comfort and joy of Jesus’ presence, without the guilt of feeling she should be laboring over the meal, or dealing with her sister’s directions. –– Carol J. Noren
Abraham had pitched his tent near Hebron, south of Jerusalem, overlooking the Dead Sea in the southern part of what is now the West Bank. With wonderful storytelling style, the narrator informs the reader that it was the LORD who visited Abraham, while the patriarch himself didn’t yet know who his three visitors were. Abraham ran to greet them, bowed and invited them to stay.
Abraham exceeds the cultural requirements for hospitality, offering a truly extravagant welcome, though he describes it diminutively—a little water and a morsel of bread. Three measures was a large amount of fine wheat flour (although dry measures were not standardized, three seahs equaled one ephah, which may be estimated at between twenty and twenty-four quarts). Slaughtering a calf made this a true feast. The text does not say whether the LORD was one of the three guests, or all three together. The LORD promises Abraham and Sarah that they will have a son in due season. –– Aaron J. Couch
The beautiful Christ-hymn in verses 15–20 invites awe and wonder at the place of Christ at the center of God’s work, celebrating the majesty of Christ as the image of God and firstborn of creation.
Interesting and surprising are the echoes of claims made by imperial Rome concerning Caesar. When Colossians describes Christ in terms very similar to those used by the cult of the emperor to honor Caesar, the “hymn” becomes a prophetic word spoken against the empire’s hubris. It is Christ, and not Caesar, in whom the fullness of God is present and through whom God is making peace in the cosmos. It is the way of Christ—forgiveness, generosity, trust and sharing—by which God is renewing the world. The way of Caesar—domination, violence and greed—embodies the evil from which Christ saves. –– Aaron J. Couch
Carol J. Noren, a United Methodist pastor, is professor emeritus of homiletics at North Park Theological Seminary. Her published works focus on worship and preaching.
Aaron J. Couch is a co-pastor of First Immanuel Lutheran Church in Portland, Oregon.
Homily Service 40, no. 8 (2007): 31-38