I was thinking about Mary and Martha the other day as I was preparing my Thanksgiving sermon. I recognized the struggle to prepare for guests as I speedily cleaned my house in preparation for my mother-in-law’s visit this week. But as I reflected on Martha and her reaction that so many of us are familiar with, I thought of something I hadn’t before: She actually tries to guilt-trip Jesus! “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?” Lord, do you not care? And I thought about the times I have tried to guilt-trip God. The times I have felt that I was treated unjustly and wanted God to do something about it. Rather, I wanted God to put that other person in their place. I feel like this mainly while driving and another driver cuts me off or flips me the finger. I want them to get what they deserve.
I am like Martha. I am worried and distracted by many things and I want the other to be punished for what they have done. I will waste time stewing over something that has no meaning in the rest of the world whatsoever but that this person has cut me off in traffic. I will keep my anger rather than let it go, and will imagine a day when they learn what they did was wrong. And I want God to make sure that happens.
I want karma, not justice. And God doesn’t work that way.
In Ezekiel 34:16, God declares his judgment: “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.” At first, it sounds like God is going to destroy those that have been in the wrong. But God says he will feed them with justice.
God’s justice is not retributive, but restorative. God does not desire punishment but restoration. The lost and the stray are brought in, the injured are cared for, the weak given strength. Those that have been oppressors, instead of punishment, are fed justice. The sins of desire and greed are defeated and destroyed.
For all of us have our shortcomings and failures. All of us at time become oppressors. All of us, if we have been the skinny sheep that Ezekiel talks about, have also been the fat sheep, focused on our own self-righteousness, that we are right and others are wrong and deserve to be punished.
Thank God that God doesn’t work that way!
So what does this have to do with Thanksgiving?
I was thinking of Mary and Martha and how many Thanksgiving dinners have been served by “Martha’s” frustrated with the “Mary’s” in their lives. But most of the time, the “Mary’s” are not really like Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus. Rather, the others are sitting in front of the TV watching the parade or watching football. Or the others are those not allowed in the kitchen by the “Martha’s” who have to have everything perfect. The truth is few of us are really “Mary’s,” who sit in the presence of another simply to be present with them. Most of us are “Martha’s.” Either we’re too busy and distracted by all the things that have to be done or too busy and distracted by all the other things that occupy our time, instead of being present with each other.
Thanksgiving is the perfect time to be present with one another, to give thanks for all we have. Thanksgiving is the perfect time to be in each other’s presence and simply be glad for the opportunity God has given us to be present with each other.
And Thanksgiving is the perfect time to remember that God’s justice is not karma, but God’s justice is restorative. It’s about reconciliation, healing, forgiveness, and love. God’s justice is about restoration. Maybe there is a family member who rubs you the wrong way. Maybe a brother-in-law still owes you money from something way-back-when. Maybe your daughter-in-law’s criticisms that you overheard still sting. It’s easy to want, even ask God for, judgment against them. It’s easy to want them to feel the pain you have felt, to suffer as you have suffered. But it’s not God’s way.
So this Thanksgiving, in the words of Ezekiel, feed on God’s justice. In the midst of the struggles and strife going on in our country and in our world, as much as we may want one person or one group to get what’s coming to them, that’s not what God wants for them, or for us. God does not desire punishment. God desires reconciliation. Thanks be to God.