As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
Granddaughter Lily is 8, a pondering one who sometimes grasps wisps of wisdom as they float by, new and ancient at the same time. Her pondering turns to wondering out loud:
“Dad, I don’t think Easter is really about bunnies and eggs and baskets,” she says, hunting for another truth seeker.
“What do you think it’s really about, Lily?” her dad responds.
“Well, it’s about Jesus coming alive from the grave, right?”
“Right…,” her Dad slowly agrees, leaving room for to-be-continued.
“And … and it’s about the part in the story where Mary is crying because the grave is empty and Jesus walks over to her and she thinks he’s the gardener and then he says her name.” Breathless, Lily pauses and then warmly says, “Mary!” just as Jesus would have.
“And that’s when Easter really started, Dad. When she recognized him.”
Which brings to mind a story that the biblical writer Luke tells about another Mary and Jesus.
Jesus is on his way, as usual, without his own home as an end-of-the-day destination, when he notices his friend Martha standing in her doorway. Even when she hollers, her voice is full of warm welcome: “Stay for dinner. There’s some lamb stew in progress and we’ve got some ripe mangos on the tree outside.” She pauses as she dinner-plans in her head. “We’ll be ready to serve you in about an hour.”
I can imagine Jesus smiling at God’s provision for him yet again, this time through Martha: one of the best cooks around. Martha, hospitality oozing out of her servant heart. “Thank you,” he says, close enough now for a hug. “It doesn’t get any better than this at the end of the day. Where would you like us to wash up and wait?”
The entourage of disciples settles in. Being inside, where the cool stone walls and floor give them relief from dusty paths and blazing sun, the men begin to sprawl out in various reclining positions. Because tradition and culture have defined them in so many ways, none of them thinks of lending a hand with the meal preparations.
Enter Mary, Martha’s sister. Mary, who sits at Jesus’ feet … right there on a mat, with the hutzpah to listen in on a theological discussion that is usually reserved for the men. Most of them are in an anticipatory mode, knowing that when Jesus gets them all in a quiet room, he will take the opportunity to teach. Lately it seems as if he has a deadline, as if time is running out, and he has much yet that he wants to leave with them about how to live, how to really live.
No one tells Mary to leave.
Was Jesus interactive, asking questions and getting input from his listeners? Did Mary enter into the discussion, I wonder? And I would have been in turmoil, or at least in a bit of a tizzy, about how in the world I was going to remember all this good stuff. What did they do without iPhones to record everything? Had I been Mary, would I even be literate enough to write things down? Would I have pen and papyrus available? Was anyone taking notes so that I could put my hands on the content afterwards? Could I memorize a few phrases, think up an acronym, even while he’s speaking? But he’s saying so much! Even with focused attention, I can’t wrap my mind around what he is saying about freedom and change and what that has to do with my everyday life. He’s so articulate! Listen to the way he phrases things … poetry in his prose. And his eye contact … it makes my gut curl.
And then Martha comes to get me, with a tone of reprimand, no less. And Jesus sticks up for me! Me with this personality that needs permission. Me with guilt dripping off my crouched position. The me who needs affirmation for ‘getting it right.’ Martha wants Jesus to tell me to help her in the kitchen. Instead he pointedly says to her, “Mary has chosen the better part.” Even then, out of traditional obligation, I start to get up off the floor and say, “I can go help…” And then … and then … I feel Jesus’ hand on my shoulder, pressing me back down gently, a powerful action of love on my behalf. I have been invited to stay there with him. And get to know him as he knows me.
Jesus, thank you for wanting us to be fully present in a relationship with you. We are the same, Mary and Lily and I … verbal learners who ponder and listen for meaning. Gently press into our hearts the gift of “getting it,” daily living the Easter discovery of really knowing who you are and what you are doing. Amen!