Saturday, July 16, 2016

Recognising Dislocation

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings:   Amos 8:1-12 and Psalm 52  • Colossians 1:15-28  • Luke 10:38-42

I think there are two words that can guide us through our readings this morning: location and dislocation. One about knowing where we are or where ought to be – that is ‘location’; the other about losing our way – dislocation. In the Amos passage we catch a glimpse of a society that has lost its way: it is ripe for judgement and is compared to a basket of summer fruit.  We hear of a people ruined by their corruption, their inhumanity, their financial manipulation and their oppression of the vulnerable.  This is a society rotten to its core and it will be judged.  In Amos’ words: …“they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.” A dislocated society.

Contrast then that terrible condition of dislocation with the passage from Colossians where the writer sings of Christ:

“1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;

1:16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers--all things have been created through him and for him.

1:17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

1:18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.

1:19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,”

This is powerful language, and it is a highly developed statement of who Jesus is: it is a statement that is lyrical, confident and grounded in a deep sense that in Jesus Christ we are held in the ground of ultimate reality.  To know that is to be located in the truth. This glorious sense of location surges through Colossians and it contrasts with the terrible sense of dislocation imaged in Amos: so, location in Colossians and dislocation in Amos.

All of this prepares us for the gospel and the intensely domestic incident that occurs when Jesus visits the home of Martha and Mary.   Everyone will feel for Martha, who is overwhelmed by her work and thoroughly annoyed that Mary won’t lend a hand.  

To really appreciate the situation, I am struck by the 16th century Italian painting by Campi, called ‘Christ in the House of Mary and Martha.  Painted in a stunning naturalist style, one is confronted by a kitchen absolutely flooded with food needing to be prepared.  There is sufficient for a regiment: varieties of fish, fowl, meats, fruits and vegetables – a staggering and extravagant abundance, more than anyone could hope to prepare in a month, let alone for a single meal.  In the midst of this is Martha.  But where are Christ and Mary?  You really have to look.   In the far distance, seated at ease, presumably in conversation, barely visible over Martha’s right shoulder (though almost hidden by a hanging chook) there are two figures who must be Mary and Jesus.  To understand what location might mean you have to look at that distant pair.

Our attention is fixed on Martha.  Her harried look and the vast amount of food demanding her attention, tells us something.  This is not just a matter of extravagant hospitality; there is simply too much.  Hospitality is subverted by excess.   What should be seen as an abundance of good things has clearly become the opposite of the good.  The painting becomes a sermon in itself.  Despite all Martha’s good intentions, the traditional virtues of hospitality and the amount of food available, what we eventually come to recognise are Martha’s dilemma and her condition of dislocation.   She is overwhelmed by her situation and cut off from the joy that is just over her shoulder: the one in whom “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”  In Martha may it be that we catch a glimpse of ourselves?

We surround ourselves with things to do; we saturate our lives with tasks and business.   We measure ourselves by work and achievements.  We fill our lives with trivia.  Our society, our church, expects such business of us.  This gospel reminds us to locate ourselves again. "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” 

How do we feel about this?  Can we really put aside the expectations society has of us and that we have of each other?   Maybe we would like to rewrite the gospel?  Maybe Martha could suggest “Come on you two, lend a hand and we’ll talk while we work.  There’s the fish to clean, Jesus…”

As it stands the challenge of our location remains: "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” 

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