Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
25 July 2010
Proper 12C (RCL)
The story of Mary and Martha raised the question, “What is the one needed thing?” This passage answers the question. First, though, we have to go back to the mission of the seventy. Jesus told them to go out two by two, carrying no purse, no bag, no tunic and no sandals. They were to eat what was set before them, heal the sick and proclaim the kingdom. In other words, they were to restore the ceremonially unclean to ceremonial community and then eat a meal as if they were in the Temple with all those restored. This was the kingdom.
Then, in the story of Mary and Martha, Jesus comes to them off the road, like one of the itinerant preachers he just sent out, and they set food before him. Presumably, he announced the kingdom. And, now, the Lord’s Prayer. I like Luke’s version better than Matthew’s because it is so direct. Father, let you name be holy, let your kingdom come, give us our something bread every day. Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who owe us anything, and don’t bring us to the test. Here is the prayer of the messengers of the kingdom. Not, let your kingdom come someday, but here, now as we are eating, let this be your kingdom. The word we translate “daily” is a neologism (made up by whoever wrote down the first version of the Lord’s prayer). We don’t know what it means, but something like “what we happen upon” or “the bread which we set out.” Perhaps it’s the bread we are supposed to set before those who come to us.
And then the wonderful story about the friend at night. The NRSV calls him “persistent.” The word is actually “shameless”. He has already been shamed by having nothing to set before his friend. He has nothing to lose by standing out there banging on the door all night. He needs bread to set before his friend, in order to eat the kindgom meal. At the end of the passage, Luke tells us that God will give to those who ask, holy breath, what is needed for having the kingdom be present. That is the one thing needed.