Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
Sunday, July 21, 2013
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
Among the resources available to us on ancient Hawaiian social customs, practices and beliefs from birth to old age are two volumes of Nānā I Ke Kumu: Look to the Source. (Mary Kawena Pukui, E.W. Haertig, M.D. & Catherine A. Lee, Hui Hānai: An Auxiliary of the Queen Lili'uokalani Children's Center, Honolulu, Hawai'i, 1972 & 1979) It was through the work of the Culture Committee of the Queen Lili'uokalani Children's Center that the books were published.
Both volumes were compiled through the collaborative work of Mary Kawena Pukui, a noted Hawaiian scholar and linguist; E.W. Haertig, a psychiatrist with the center; and Catherine Lee, a writer. Through their efforts we have what has been referred to as "a bridge linking Hawaii's past and present." (Volume 1, 1972, viii) One of the teachings I found helpful in their work addresses the manner in which our kūpuna or elders understood how a child learns.
"Nānā ka maka. Ho'olohe. Pa'a ka waha. Ho'opili." "Observe, listen. Keep the mouth shut. Do."
The steps in greater detail seem fairly simple and straightforward. First, there is 'ike or nānā -- one has to see, to look at, to observe, to watch and at the same time to ho'olohe -- listen. And after observing and listening -- one has to ho'opili -- to imitate or to do. And only after observing, listening and doing, is one free to nīnau -- to ask questions.
"Never interrupt. Wait until the lesson is over and the elder gives you permission. Then -- and not until then -- nīnau. Ask questions." (Nānā I Ke Kumu: Look to the Source, Volume 2. Pukui, Haertig & Lee, Hui Hānai: An Auxiliary of the Queen Lili'uokalani Children's Center, Honolulu, Hawai'i, 1979)
At that point the questions may be for clarification rather than instruction. In other words, if one keeps still and listens, what is said and done is understood.
That is what is important and that is what I believe Jesus said to Martha the day she welcomed him into her home to share a meal. "Never mind asking so many questions, Martha -- how, what, when and why. Watch what your sister Mary is doing and listen to what I am saying."
Our reading from The Gospel According to Luke about that day captures our attention because it seems so familiar in its simplicity and realism. Who among us has not fussed over preparations for guests coming to our homes for a meal? We worry about what to prepare and how things will turn out. We grow anxious and find ourselves, like Martha, wondering why no one else is in the kitchen and when the guests do arrive, no one is at the door to welcome them.
In the account of Jesus' visit to Martha and Mary's home in Bethany, the writer of The Gospel According to John tells us that Martha goes out to meet him while Mary sits in the house (John 11:20). At dinner, Martha serves and Mary anoints his feet. (John 12:1-3)
But in Luke's account there is no anointing. Instead, Mary sits at Jesus' feet and listens. (Luke 10:39) The details of the visit vary and we may be inclined to conclude that the stories contradict themselves.
For one thing, John locates the family in Bethany. In Luke, Jesus seems to be on his way to Jerusalem.
There is also the problem with verse 42 in Luke with two different translations - "there is need for only one thing" or "few things are necessary or only one." If the latter is the correct reading, then Jesus is probably telling Martha: "Auntie, you making too much mea 'ai. Who is going to eat all that food?"
If the former is true Jesus is saying that "the word of God and not food is the one thing needed." (Preaching Through the Christian Year, Year C, Craddock, Hayes, Holladay & Tucker, Trinity Press International, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1994, page 345) It may be that that is the point that Jesus wanted to make that is emphasized throughout the Bible . . . "we do not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord" (Deuteronomy 8:3; Luke 4:4; John 6:27).
If Jesus seems unappreciative of Martha's hospitality, we are aware that this story takes the sharp turn toward Jerusalem after Jesus' shares with the disciples that the road ahead will be difficult and demanding. The cross awaits all of them. (Op. cit.)
It makes sense then that Jesus sought to convey to Martha and Mary the importance of what lay ahead. There was little time left and Jesus begins to prepare the disciples, including Martha and Mary, for what is to come.
In a way the story is an extremely radical one when we take into account that Jesus is received as a guest in the home of two women. In addition to sitting with them at the table to eat together, he teaches them. Rabbis did not allow women to "sit at their feet," and yet in this account Mary and Martha are clearly seen as disciples. By the story's end Martha is reminded about what is important.
Some of us may identify ourselves with Mary, viewing her as the model of one who listens and reflects on Jesus' words. Some of us may identify ourselves with Martha, seeing her as the model of a disciple who is an active and busy serving others.
But such portraits of both women may be oversimplified even when Jesus tells Martha that Mary "has chosen the better part." (Luke 10:42) Given the larger context of the Biblical stories and especially our reading last Sunday about the parable of the Good Samaritan in which Jesus challenges the lawyer to "Go and do likewise" (Luke 10:37), we would be remiss in dismissing Martha so easily.
I believe that if we look at Martha and Mary, we will see that Jesus affirms and blesses not only going and doing (the lawyer, Martha) but sitting still and listening (Mary). (Op. cit.) To be sure, Martha is about "doing". But in her distraction to the tasks at hand, she questions whether Jesus cares about her.
Jesus responds: "I care about what you are doing. But look and see what your sister is doing. Listen and do what she does. Then perhaps you will find that your question is unnecessary."
And as for Mary who may have noticed and heard Jesus' interaction with Martha, my hope is that she understood once she was pau with observing (nānā) and listening (ho'olohe) to him that she needed to get into the kitchen and help Martha with the dishes (ho'opili). At the risk of sounding disrespectful or sacrilegious, I hope Jesus also offered to help with the dishes. Whether or not he did, offering to help is something I learned from my mother.