Balance: in Scripture and in ministry


Scripture, Luke 10: 38-42 Nigel Bunce

Balance.  In Scripture and in ministry.  In Luke’s story about Martha and Mary, he presents both women as caricatures.  Martha only cares about others; Mary about her own needs.  In ministry, the Church often paints humanity very negatively, without balance.  My aim in ministry has been to try to redress that bnalance.


Luke’s “orderly account” of Jesus’ life

Today’s Gospel follows directly the parable of the good Samaritan. I’m sure that Luke did this deliberately. Because, he had stated explicitly [Luke 1: 3] that he intended to write “an orderly account” of Jesus’ life. Thus, we have us three related pieces.

First, a lawyer asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. The key commandments are to love God and to love one’s neighbour as oneself. Then comes the parable of the Good Samaritan.

It’s about deciding who is a neighbour (last week’s homily), or when to follow the rules and religious traditions (last Wednesday’s Evening Prayer). One solution is to view both approaches as problems of balance. Thus, to decide each situation on its own merits. Not, applying principles blindly to each and every situation.

Balance in the story about Martha and Mary

Good Jewish hostesses had to provide hospitality to guests. Against that, this was probably a unique opportunity to listen to Jesus. Martha chose to make coffee and sandwiches, Mary listened to Jesus.

The dilemma was to put your neighbour first or yourself first. In this case, selflessly serving your neighbour food or selfishly meeting your spiritual needs. Without considering anyone else. It’s never black and white. Martha seems selfless, serving food to the guests. Mary seems selfish, listening to Jesus instead of helping her sister.

But Jesus reminded Martha that sometimes we need to put our own needs first. He warned Martha that if we always put others first, we risk becoming self-righteous martyrs or doormats. Equally, if we always put ourselves first, we are egotistical and selfish.  It’s about balance.

Let me give you a personal example. I am a natural Martha. My personality is that I feel the need to “keep the show on the road.” But the last two Sundays I behaved out of character. Two weeks ago, I let Bev and Bonnie clear up after Sundae Sunday. It was hard.

But I needed to talk to Jenn and Kaleb about the promises that Kaleb would be making as a sponsor at Melissa’s baptism. Then last week, at the parish brunch, I again avoided the clean up. This time, it was to talk to guests that I hadn’t met or spoken to before.

I spoke earlier about balance. It means knowing when to be Martha versus when to be Mary. We must consider each situation on its own merits.  However, Marthas have to promote their inner Mary, and Marys their inner Martha. I am still trying to learn this lesson.

A few words about my ministry at St. George’s

I’ll start a long way back. I undertook Confirmation at the age of 16. That allowed me to receive Holy Communion. Yes, that was a long time ago!

I bring this up because I vividly recall words of the Confession that the Church of England used at that time. “We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness … The remembrance of them is grievous unto us. The burden of them is intolerable …”

My first realization that the Church sees humanity very negatively

Two things. First, this callow 16 year old did not find the burden of his sins to be ‘intolerable’. I thought that this must apply to other people! More seriously, it was the first time that I realized that the Christianity that the Church espouses shows humanity in a very negative light.

It is very far from Genesis 1: 31. There, the writer said, “God saw everything in Creation, and indeed, it was very good.” But Church-bound Christianity focusses very heavily on sin and death. It’s almost as if the highlight of the Christian year is Good Friday.  Not Christmas and Incarnation.  Not Easter and Resurrection.

And, with a special emphasis on Christ’s agony being in some way my personal fault. What a dreary approach. It lacks balance.  It implies that I should follow Jesus because it’s my duty.  Because I am overwhelmed by my sins.  Alternatively, should I try to follow Jesus because it is my joy to try to lead a Christ-like life?

My three major aims in ministry

I must stress that I did not, and could not express them before I had become ordained. First, to love the people. You would probably be surprised at how often I hear clergy complain about members of their congregations.

I have served in four parishes, plus short stints in three others. And have always been treated with the utmost consideration in all of them, definitely including St. George’s. I have no complaints on that score. It has made it easy to love the people.

Second, to make Sunday worship joyful. It remains for me a joy and a privileged to lead worship, especially to celebrate the Eucharist and to offer you God’s blessing at the end of each service. I hope that I have transmitted that joy.

What we don’t believe

With Jan’s help, I have tried not to use words that reflect what I don’t believe. I hope that you have usually agreed with our choices. Thus we don’t sing verse 3 of How great thou art. “And when I think that God, his Son not sparing, sent him to die …”

Or verse 3 of the great harvest hymn Come, ye thankful people. come. “Give his angels charge at last, in the fire the tares to cast …” Do we really want to see ourselves as weeds that God will throw into the eternal fire? I hope not.

Third, to try to relate Scripture to today’s world. The books of the Bible date from long ago. But human nature hasn’t changed much. Those ancient stories still have much to teach us in modern settings. However, on the other hand, sometimes we have to realize that they don’t.

Thus, the hymn Once to every man and nation includes these words. “Time makes ancient good uncouth. They must upward still and onward who would keep abreast of truth.” That, of course is the ancient Jewish practice of midrash. To reinterpret Scripture in and for each time and place.

Thank you all most sincerely for accompanying me on my journey into Christianity. I have enjoyed being with you on the ride. Amen.