ome of you may recall the old Crest television commercial that pictured the toothpaste wrapping a tooth in "an invisible protective shield." Little caricatures of "Mr. Cavity" could not penetrate "Mr. Tooth" no matter how hard he tried. That popular commercial, once familiar to all, became an image used by psychological types to describe the person who would not allow anyone to get close to them. It was often said in written verbatims used in Clinical Pastoral Education that, "The patient was wrapped in an invisible protective shield."
We have all known folks who would not let anybody get too close to them. Perhaps you have had a coworker who was a loner and you assumed that they had been hurt by past relationships and were now afraid that they would be hurt once more if they allowed anybody to get too close. Maybe some of us at times keep potential friends at a distance.
What a revealing insight into Jesus' personal friendships is found in this wonderful story of his meal at the home of the sisters Martha and Mary in Bethany. Their brother Lazarus was away for some unexplained reason. Commentators assume that Jesus had visited in his friends home many times. The three siblings were of similar age to Jesus all were unmarried and had spiritual interests. This story is clearly about deeper friendship, not just casual acquaintance. The familiar way these young adults bantered back and forth captures a picture of close friendship. We recall the subsequent story of how Jesus wept at Lazarus' tomb. Using the Greek word for love we can say that this was a bond called Philia.
Jesus had other friends. There were many followers, Luke chapter ten says "...the crowds grew until thousands were milling about..." Some from the crowds became disciples. Out of the many disciples there was a smaller leadership team of twelve Apostles. Within the circle of the twelve there were three best friends, Peter, James and John. John is called "The Apostle whom Jesus loved." John was the only Apostle to remained at the Cross with the women.
Some say that the encounter recorded in today's text took place in a home personally owned by Martha who was a widow and had inherited it. She would have naturally been more responsible about keeping her own house and preparing meals. As we are daily reminded, housework is a necessary part of life; however, it does appear that Martha was somewhat obsessed by her domestic tasks to the point of neglecting her friend who was to soon face the terrible ordeal of denial, trials, torture and crucifixion. Perhaps the human side of Jesus needed to talk to them as much as they needed listen.
Mary seemed keenly interested in the things that Jesus had to say. We can assume that she had a fine mind and spiritual acumen: "she sat at the Lord's feet and listened." (10: 39). Quite possibly, Mary entered into a conversation with Jesus by asking questions and conceivably helping him to think through some of the events that were about to transpire. Mary had indeed chosen the better alternative by talking with Jesus. Later, in The Garden of Gethsemane Jesus had to go off alone, while his Apostles slept, and weep bitter tears.
Maybe Jesus' rejoinder to Martha was only a gentle chiding between friends. "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted about many things; there is need for only one thing. Mary has chosen the better..." (41-42). Martha probably soon forgot what she had served for dinner that night, but Mary could never forget her time with her friend Jesus.
On an even deeper level we must point out that this profound friendship is exactly what the continuing presence of Jesus' Spirit wants to cultivate within each one of us. He wants to enlist those who have been standing off at a distance listening to his sermons, those who have kept him away with an "invisible protective shield," those who have busied themselves with chores, and those who have turned their backs on Him so many times before. Jesus wants to come into our minds and souls and engage us in deep conversations about the higher things of life that matter most. The Good News from the Cross is that He wants to grab hold us and become our abiding friend. He wants to get deep inside of us.
Do you recall the words to the Cole Porter tune made famous by Frank Sanatra? "I've got you under my skin I've got you deep in the heart of me So deep in my heart, that you're really a part of me I've got you under my skin." (Lyrics.com)
That's as good of a definition for Jesus' love that I've heard. Men and women have fallen into marital love listening to that tune. Philia friends will agree that this is how they feel about each other. God's Agape, Divine love, wants to actualize within us that same personal relationship deep in our souls, under our skin, through our protective shields. A friendship that is alive and vital right now, at this very moment.
At this point in my sermon typing I took a break to pray, but then realized that I was already praying--- I had been talking to my 'Ol Pal Jesus all along. And then I remembered to phone a friend who had undergone surgery the day before. She was all alone and said that it was good to recognize a friendly voice. We talked about how fortunate we are to live at a time, and in a place, where we can receive modern medicine. And we talked about how friendships can grow deeper through sickness when our souls are vulnerable. We went on to share that so often it has been through trouble that we have grown closer to our Lord who has shared in similar suffering, and that we can now understand the Pauline notion that believers can share in Jesus' agony of the Cross and that our sin and pain and troubles from the past can be nailed there and covered by His blood.
Perhaps that's the Best News Ever from Bethany!
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor