Turning Distraction Into Intention
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: Luke 10:38-42
There’s an age-old tradition in my family. Whenever we’re all together—aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, all of us, or some configuration of us—if a controversial topic comes up, someone inevitably says, “How about them Broncos?” Anything that may potentially cause conflict or tension in the conversation is met with a universally recognized deflector—the football team we all love. Even if it’s not football season.
Looks like more bishops were indicted in the child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.
How about them Broncos?
Remember Mike, my friend from high school? She’s Michelle now.
How about them Broncos?
Did you hear what Trump said about those four Congresswomen?
How about them Broncos?
Whenever it is invoked, it is understood that we change the subject. Not even to the Broncos. It might be, “Can you believe how hot it was yesterday?” or “How is your asthma doing, dear?” Anything that gets us back on neutral, opinionless ground.
Occasionally, though, it fails. Someone might be in a mood. My grandpa decides today is the day to defend our president at all costs. My sister goes on a tirade against people who are misogynist. They’re the usual suspects—we all have them in our families. The people who love throwing a live grenade into the conversation. And if I’m being honest, I probably fall more into that category.
On the other hand, as soon as “How about them Broncos?” fails, my dad remembers something he needed to do in the garage. My mom starts picking up the dishes and carrying them into the kitchen.
When I think about our gospel today, I imagine Jesus hanging out in Mary and Martha’s dining room, sipping his wine, munching on some dried fish, and saying stuff like:
‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.
‘But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
‘Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
‘Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
‘Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
So, how about them Broncos?
I’ll tell you this, my mom would have had all the dishes cleared by the time he got to the end of that little speech. My dad would already be on the mower.
Just like Martha was rushing around, tending to every other task than the one she was called to in that moment: being present with Jesus. Letting herself stop and hear his words, however challenging.
This Mary and Martha text is often used to extol the virtues of contemplative practice. Mary, who sat quietly at the Lord’s feet, chose the better part, so that must mean that being in prayer before Jesus is superior to Martha’s tasks, to an orientation to action.
That’s not how I read it, though. Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.”
Jesus isn’t calling out Martha for doing things, whatever those things were. He’s calling Martha out for being distracted.
Who here loves being uncomfortable?
Who here goes to Thanksgiving and thinks to themselves, I can’t wait to hear what rude thing uncle so-an-so says about cousin so-and-so’s weight?
Who here wants to turn to their neighbor tell them what your annual income is?
Who here is dying to have a conversation about how each of us might be complicit in maintaining racist structures in our country?
This doesn’t feel good, does it? Maybe we’re starting to shuffle in our seats a little. Maybe we’re avoiding eye contact. Maybe we’re dying to ask about them Broncos.
The thing is, discomfort is just a message, our intuition trying to tell us something. It’s telling us something is off, something is wrong. It’s telling us to stop and ask ourselves, “What is really going on here, and what am I called to do about it?”
I think it’s far easier, though, to do what Martha does. To find a distraction. And listen, we all have our different ways of distraction. Maybe it sounded like I was throwing my mom and dad under the bus for their avoidance tactics, but let’s be clear: my sister and I go into distraction mode by arguing, building the tension in the room, but in a way that feels like we’re controlling it. It’s called stirring the pot.
What’s your distraction of choice? Avoidance? Stirring? Being agreeable even if you don’t agree? Intellectualizing?
But Jesus says to Martha, “there is need of only one thing.” Then he looks at Mary, who is undistracted, who is present. Whatever challenging things Jesus might be saying—to love her enemy, to lose her life for sake of gaining it, to take up her cross—Mary is paying attention. “She has chosen the better part.”
“What is really going on here, and what am I called to do about it?” It’s what I think Mary was sitting with at the feet of Jesus. It’s what Jesus embodied.
Jesus teaches us a different way to encounter the discomfort. He teaches us to pay attention to the suffering and need that discomfort is pointing us to. And he does it by taking our distractions, and bringing presence to them. He takes our distractions and turns them into intention.
Us pot-stirrers out there can handle conflict, tension, so a little presence and intention transform that stirring into the ability to help others really see suffering and need in our world and sit with it. Jesus did this when he approached the leper and the man filled with demons—the people no one else would approach.
You folks who distract yourselves by being agreeable, you have an ability to hold multiple perspectives at once, so a little presence and intention transforms your being agreeable into helping people find common ground despite their differences. Like when Jesus welcomed tax collectors into his ministry.
The intellectualizers out there, the rationalizers, you a way of thinking critically through issues, so a little presence and intention transforms rationalizing into the ability to make sense of the challenges around us. Was it not Jesus the intellectual, Jesus the philosopher, who taught in parables?
And you avoiders out there, you can recognize when you don’t have it in you to dive into something hard, so a little presence and intention transforms running away into actively stepping away and replenishing yourselves. How many times did Jesus go to the mountain to pray, to rest, to renew, even when crowds of people were waiting for him?
You see, Martha and Mary aren’t in opposition to each other. Mary is a Martha transformed by the power of presence, the power of intention, transformed by all that Jesus shows us.
Presence and intention are the constant invitations of our faith. Where do we see God around us and how do we face suffering? Do we run? Do we distract ourselves? Or do we really step into ourselves and into our gifts and ask “What is really going on here, and what am I called to do about it?”