What Are Your Priorities?

I have edited this since it was first posted.

I cannot help but imagine how the conversation between Martha and Jesus in today’s Gospel reading (Luke 10: 38 – 42 ) will be accepted in many of today’s churches.

In many churches today, there is a division of labor prompted by gender and time served in the church. Certain things are done by the men, certain things are done by the women, and some things depend on how long you have been a member of the church. Yet, in the reading for today, Mary is sitting with the men listening to Jesus while Martha is in the kitchen trying to clean up.

The problem for Martha is that Mary’s presence with the men goes against the social norms of the day. But it was typical of Jesus to seek a change in such norms. It was also one of the attributes of the early church where all members were considered equal and the division of the labor was divided appropriately and equally.
Jesus gently chides Martha for insisting that Mary go along with society’s rules. We hear in Jesus’ words the same reminder to open our hearts and our minds to the possibilities of life, not to the limits placed on us by society.

The problem today is two-fold. First, we have allowed society’s norms to dictate the nature of the church. And we have allowed society to define the message of the church.

In churches today, the message is clear that certain people do certain jobs and one is not supposed to mess with tradition. When it is your time, you will get to do the job you want to do. Too many churches today hold views that are inflexible and unchanging. For too many churches and too many people, the role of women is limited and fixed by God in the Bible. Somehow the history of the early church gets lost when the words of God are carved into stone by these inflexible and unchanging minds.

There is a truth in God’s words but it does not come nor can it come from a view that is fixed and unchanging. The Bible is meant to be lived, not read. The Word of God must be guided by the Spirit, not directed by one’s prejudices, one’s fears, or one’s ignorance. And I fear that many of those who claim to speak these words speak through their own prejudices, fears, and ignorance.

There are four versions of the Gospel presented to people today. In one version, Jesus is our servant and the avenue and the means by which we gain wealth and prosperity. Poverty is the product of a sinful life and wealth is the product of a righteous life. Never mind that this is a concept that was held by people before Jesus. Never mind that it was a concept that Jesus quickly rejected. Never mind that the Bible emphasizes on taking care of those less fortunate and that wealth is to be used, not accumulated.

When Jesus began his ministry, poverty and sickness were considered the products of a sinful life, either by the individual themselves or through the sins of the individual’s parents. Jesus worked to show that this was not the case and that people who were blind, lame, deaf or could not speak should be treated for their illnesses, not cast aside or shunned.

The second version of the Gospel also casts aside the less fortunate members of society. In this version of the Gospel, God is hateful, vengeful and quick to anger. He is apt to destroy a town because of its sins and there is nothing that we can do. This is a god that offers no hope for the future. To those who accept this gospel the future will end in some sort of fiery destruction with non-believers perishing in the flames while they are lifted up to heaven. But who will be lifted up?

This view offers Christianity as an exclusive club that is only open to a select few. Heaven is truly open to all those who believe but the belief is not decided by those here on earth. Jesus points out that those who ignore the less fortunate, no matter how righteous a life they think they led here on earth, will not gain admission to heaven. To wait for the destruction of the earth in anticipation of admittance into heaven is to ignore all that is going on around you and is as much a sin as anything imaginable.

I have no problem with preaching against sin. I think that is what the church is supposed to do. But when we cannot preach against sins that are the product of our own prejudices, our fears, or our ignorance; to do so is as much a sin as preaching against murder or stealing.

You cannot preach a gospel of vengeance when God sent his Son so that we might have eternal life. You cannot preach a gospel of exclusion when Jesus Christ opened his teaching to all who would follow Him.

The prosperity gospel and the gospel of vengeance have one thing in common. They are self-centered messages and those who offer them cannot see beyond the walls of their limited existence. They are the ones who Amos speaks out against in today’s Old Testament reading.(Amos 8:1 – 12 ) People who forget parts of their own society are not going to gain what they seek. Rather, they will be destroyed because of their own indifference to society.

There are those who preach a gospel of social work today. But their version of the gospel is as self-centered as the message of those who ignore the poor, the sick, and the oppressed. This version of the gospel suggests that one is able to gain access to heaven by helping those less fortunate. It is a version of the 16th century church where people bought their admission through the purchase of indulgences. One cannot buy one’s way into heaven by any means and trying to do so will do little to change the actual nature of the world.To change the world requires a change in one’s view of the world. This is what I think Paul is saying to the Colossians in the 2nd reading for today. (Colossians 1: 15 -28) There was, at the time of his writing this letter, a conflict between various schools of thought about who Jesus Christ was, is, and would be. The various versions of the Gospel that we hear today are a continuation of that same argument.

There is one true version of the Gospel and it is the most difficult one to accept. As Paul noted in the letter to the Colossians, to follow Christ is to follow the path that He walked and to endure the same sufferings that He endured. It is perhaps one reason that there are other versions of the Gospel that are kinder and gentler. The alternative versions of the Gospel offer paths that are easier to walk and require nothing from the individual.

But in order to walk the path with Christ, we must repent of our old ways and begin a new life. We cannot accept society’s version of the walk because it doesn’t work. To walk with Christ is to walk in a new world and to see things in an entirely differently life. And, as Paul noted, it is a very difficult walk.

As we walk this new walk, we are going to encounter many who will reject what we think, what we say, and what we do. But there are going to be many who will want to walk with us for the same reasons that others will reject us. It is by our thoughts, our words, and our deeds that people will come to know Christ because they will see how He has changed our lives.

The question that we must ask ourselves is the same one that Jesus posed so many years ago. Are we going to be like Martha, guided and directed by the ways of society, or are we going to be like Mary, focused on the goal offered by Jesus and the changes that this new goal will bring. What are your priorities today?

1 thought on “What Are Your Priorities?

  1. Thanks for some great thoughts! I particularly like:

    “The problem today is two-fold. First, we have allowed society’s norms to dictate the nature of the church. And we have allowed society to define the message of the church.”

    That will preach!

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