By The Very Rev. June Osborne
At the end of the tenth chapter of Luke Jesus engages with two people who seek to justify themselves. The lawyer wants an individual religion which would guarantee his eternal destiny and make him feel that he’d ticked all the boxes of what was required of him. The disciple Martha similarly wanted everything to be tidy and perfectly ordered and was prepared to tire herself to the point of resentment in order to achieve that.
Jesus confronts both of them but only when they indicate that they’re discontent with the framework they’ve built for themselves and that they need his help. What he offers them is a different starting point.
To the lawyer he gives a wonderful story which has reinforced to every generation that religion is about right relationships, not based on prejudice or systems which exclude but on common humanity and compassion. The law requires love of God and neighbour. Both our Old Testament passages show us how easily those human relationships become corrupted and that for society to be good it needs the love which we call justice, without which there can never be peace.
To Martha he gives a tender rebuke and steers her towards a different set of priorities. We know that in other places Jesus enters into theological dialogue with Martha and in John’s gospel it is Martha, not Peter, who recognises Jesus as the Messiah and gives voice to that conviction.
Perhaps fostering the love of God and our neighbour also needs us to stop justifying ourselves and to consider our starting points?
Consider the issues which you find difficult to deal with and ask yourself what is it you are assuming – your starting points – which prevent you from making progress?
Where do you try to justify yourself, and what might Jesus have to say about it?
Lord God, you know that it is often my starting points which lead me astray. Help me to always sense your priorities and to foster your love so that worldy cares and a desire to justify myself may not distract me from doing your will. Amen
The Very Rev. June Osborne is Dean of Salisbury Cathedral in England