Monday, March 19, 2012

Candlelight Suppers...

If you've ever watched the old British sitcom Keeping Up Appearances on PBS, then you will know all about the primary character Hyacinth's candlelight suppers. Hyacinth is snobbishly particular and downright pushy.  Neighbors scatter when she walks down her street. The milkman tiptoes up to her front porch attempting to avoid her because she always tells him to make sure her milk comes from the nice clean cows she has noticed in a verdant pasture down the road. Her friend next door becomes a nervous wreck when she's invited for tea and Hyacinth uses her best irreplaceable china with a hand-painted periwinkle pattern.  The postman gets scolded by Hyacinth when he has no mail for her because she can't possibly understand why he has mail for her neighbor and not her because she is so much more important than her neighbor.

But when it comes to her infamous candlelight suppers, Hyacinth becomes totally annoying as she gets meticulously wrapped up in the preparation and arrangements.  The menu, the china, the silverware, the wine glasses, the tablecloths, the invitations, the center piece--everything has to be absolutely perfect.  But somehow things always begin to unravel and the evening inevitably turns into a complete humiliating disaster.

When I read the mealtime story of Jesus' BFF,  Mary and Martha of Bethany, it reminds me just a little bit of Hyacinth's candlelight suppers. Martha welcomed Jesus into her home and was looking forward to serving up an elaborate meal.  As she is busily setting things up and cooking for Jesus, things get out of hand and she is unable to manage the preparations all by herself. Meanwhile, her sister, Mary, is settled down at Jesus' feet, listening intently to his every word.  Martha finally gets fed up, bursts into the courtyard where Jesus and the others are sitting, interrupts Jesus and accuses him of not caring about her and tells him to make her sister get herself into the kitchen area immediately to help her.

Oops!  Awkward!  I'm sure it didn't take Martha long to realize she had just made a fool of herself.  But Jesus' response to Martha when she was at her wit's end was gentle and calming.  Make no mistake--Jesus is love and there is no way he could not truly appreciate all Martha's efforts and sincere desire to prepare what probably amounted to a feast in his honor.  And Mary no doubt normally would have assisted her.  But there was something Martha had missed.

It turns out, because Mary had been listening to Jesus, she had discerned that he, their best and most beloved friend, was soon to die a horrible, brutal death by crucifixion.  She had been deeply affected.  So Mary decided to remain by Jesus' side to be supportive and to comfort him during his visit.

It was a hard, embarrassing lesson for Martha to learn.  We all know how small we feel when we overact in a given situation and afterwards learn of details that put matters in a totally different light. In spite of her outburst, Jesus made it easy for Martha. After all, he knew what it was like to carry the weight of the world.  He didn't respond in kind to her snippy attitude  Instead, he lovingly encouraged Martha to become aware of what was really essential in life and helped her understand getting a little behind with dinner was not worth being all upset about.  That's reassuring news for all of us Martha types, not to mention all the Hyacinths out there!

To read Martha's version of the story, click onto This Sister of Mine... under Recent Posts on this page.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

His Heart Went Out to Her

"His heart went out to her...."  I love that!  It shows the emotional side of Jesus in a story about a widow woman plodding slowly along in a funeral procession for the burial of her only son.  The mourners were passing through the city gate just as Jesus and a huge crowd of followers arrived at the village.  From a distance he saw her crying and broke away from the mass of people surrounding him.  When he caught up with her, he gently told her, "Don't cry..."  By including the expression translated as "His heart went out to her," the Gospel writer is giving us a glimpse of the emotion and feeling that was typical of Jesus.  His heart yearned to do something for her.  He had never met her before.  She wasn't asking for anything.  Jesus was simply overwhelmed with a desire to show compassion and mercy and as a result raised her son from the dead.

Though the astounding miracle brought glory to his name, every indication is this was not the primary reason for his intervention.  Yes, we are awestruck and inspired beyond words by the miracle of her son being raised from the dead.  But in these stories about Jesus, it is easy to skip over poignant little phrases such as "his heart went out to her" and "don't cry" because they are often overshadowed by the bigger events that usually get most of the focus.  But what comfort and reassurance can be had by picking up on these few, yet highly significant words tucked into the narratives of Jesus' life.  They allow us to relate to him more personally.

And how reassuring to realize that because he cares so deeply, he steps in even if we, for whatever reason, don't ask for help.  His goodness can touch anyone anytime. Though he was surrounded by people, Jesus' eye caught the exhausted grieving widow, tears flowing as she struggled to keep up with her son's funeral procession   If his heart went out to the widow woman, we can be assured his heart goes out to all of us as well in the midst of our troubles.  That's just who he is.

 **To read the story as told by the widow who lost her only son, click onto "Don't Cry..." under Recent Posts.