“Much Christian leadership is exercised by people who do not know how to develop healthy, intimate relationships and have opted for power and control instead. Many Christian empire-builders have been people unable to give and receive love.”
– Henri Nouwen, “In the Name of Jesus”
Luke 10 has become paradigmatic in the missional shift: the disciples sent out before Jesus, sent empty-handed and vulnerable, sent into villages and towns two by two. The great commandment follows: we are to love God with all that we are, and our neighbours as ourselves. Then follows the story of the good Samaritan. Hmm. That shakes us out of our presuppositions that God is with the righteous few and not with the other. So much for a colonial style mission: We go as learners.
Then follows the Mary-Martha story. The placement of this one has puzzled me. But think of what has gone before. The focus has been on mission. Suddenly it shifts to contemplation, with Mary who sits quietly finding the Lord’s approval. What? What about being sent out on mission?
This story is a radical reframe of service. Our first service is to Christ. Actually – our ONLY service is to him and any other service is in and through Him. All other calls are relativized in view of our call to worship. All that does not flow from our intimacy with the Father will fall short of God’s intention. Lex immaculata caritas est. “The divine law is love.”
Taken another way, contemplation and mission are two sides of a coin. Only the contemplative will be a healthy missionary, a rich channel for the Spirit, securely rooted in the love of God; only the missionary, rooted in place, feet on the dusty road, understands the need for contemplation. Root and fruit are intimately related. And then, to reinforce and expand this point, chapter 11 leads off with the disciples prayer – the prayer of the kingdom. We are reminded that God’s purpose is to unite heaven and earth – no other-worldly spirituality here. A slam-bang ending.
There are still some puzzles for me, and one of them is why did Luke leave off the opening part of the Shema here? In Mark 12, the parallel passage, Jesus recites the Shema prior to quoting from Deuteronomy 6. I suspect there is a reason the connection is so sharply made in Mark.
The Shema “Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God, the Lord is One.”
And then we have a promise. When we love the Lord with all that we are, we become like him in his wholeness. We experience integration of head, heart and body – something most of us long for. Emotional and spiritual well-being walk together, and when they do not — most of us have too much experience of the down side, of leaders operating without awareness of their own shadow. But we are only now waking up from a time when these things were so far apart that we almost lost our understanding of the relationship. We so emphasized the justification side, the legal standing we acquire when we give our lives to God, that we neglected our part in cooperation — and so many believers remain babes in Christ, with their spiritual life a mile wide and an inch deep.
The promise of the picture of Mary and Martha is what seem like polarities belong together: action and contemplation, mission and devotion. We need to hear the approval of the Father before we serve him: you are my beloved. Then we can go out with freedom and offer the same love to others, a free and hospitable space. Coming to know and trust God’s love is a lifelong process. David Benner writes, “Every time I dare to meet God in the vulnerability of my sin and shame, this knowing is strengthened. Every time I fall back into a self-improvement mode and try to bring God my best self, it is weakened. I only know Divine unconditional, radical and reckless love for me when I dare to approach God just as I am.”
Mission ought to be rooted in prayer: the relational reality that keeps us anchored in the place where we experientially know that Christ is our all in all.
“Missional communities, shaped by faith in Jesus Christ and the gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit, present a different image. Rather than seeing themselves as one more civic institution offering religious goods and services to individuals (or to society at large), such communities take the time to create gracious and caring space where they can reach out and invite their fellow human beings into a new relationship with God and with each other. They offer both the protection and the freedom to enable estranged and fearful human beings to bring the actual circumstances of their lives into conversation with the peace of the gospel. ..
“Hostility is converted into hospitality, strangers into friends, and enemies into guests.” – Inagrace Dietterich (Missional Church, “Cultivating Communities of the Holy Spirit,”)
The other day I was reading in John 17 – I was particularly interested in the context of the “in but not of” framing in John 17. And not too surprising – the framing is mission, and the context is prayer. Jean Vanier writes of the need for those with authority in our communities to have lives rooted in contemplation.
“The more we become people of action and responsibility in our community, the more we must become people of contemplation. If we do not nurture our deep emotional life in prayer hidden in God, if we do not spend time in silence and if we do not know how to take time from the presence of our brothers and sisters, we risk becoming embittered. It is only to the extent that we nurture our own hearts that we can keep interior freedom. People who are hyperactive, fleeing from their deep selves and their wound, become tyrannical and their exercise of responsibility only creates conflict.”Community and Commitment