“Preacher Thomas Long tells a story about Grace Thomas. Grace was born in the early twentieth century as the second of five children. Her father was a streetcar conductor in Birmingham, Alabama, and so Grace grew up in modest circumstances. Later in life after getting married and moving to Georgia, Grace took a clerking job in the state capitol in Atlanta, where she developed a fondness for politics and the law. So, although already a full-time mother and a full-time clerk, Grace enrolled in night school to study law.
“In 1954 Grace shocked her family by announcing that she wanted to run for public office. What’s more, Grace didn’t want to run for drain commissioner or for the city council: Grace ran for governor of the state of Georgia. T here was a total of nine candidates that year—nine candidates, one issue. It was 1954 and the issue was Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark decision that mandated a desegregating of schools. Grace Thomas was alone among the nine candidates to say she thought this was a just decision. Her campaign slogan was “Say Grace at the Polls”! Hardly anyone did, though, and Grace ran dead last.
“Her family was glad she got it out of her system, except she didn’t and so decided to run for governor again in 1962. By then the racial tensions in the South were far more taut than they had been eight years earlier. Grace’s progressive platform on race issues earned her a number of death threats. One day she held a rally in a small Georgia town and chose as her venue the old slave market in the town square. As she stood there, Grace motioned to the platform where once human beings had been bought and sold like a product and she said, “The old has passed away, the new has come. A new day has come when all Georgians, white and black, can join hands and work together.” At that point a red-faced man in the crowd interrupted Grace’s speech to blurt out, “Are you a communist!?” “Why, no,” Grace replied quietly. “Well then, where’d you get all them galdurned ideas!?” Grace pointed to the steeple of a nearby Baptist church. “I learned them over there, in Sunday school.””1
Oh, what dangerous things you learn in Sunday School. We heard a Sunday School story of sorts in today’s Gospel reading, the story of Mary and Martha of Bethany. Mary and Martha had a brother named Lazarus who was one of our Lord’s best friends, but he wasn’t around for the episode we just heard, for which he is probably eternally thankful.
Jesus stopped in to see His friends in Bethany, and it’s clear from the text that He was received as an honored guest, their Lord as well as their friend. This was not Jesus’ first time to the house, and He presumably sat down in His usual chair, expecting Mary and Martha to sit down in their favorite places at His feet.2
Mary managed to sit down as usual, to go to Sunday School, so to speak, but Martha didn’t make it. Martha started cooking, which was a technically a good thing – somebody had to cook – but for all her good effort, her attitude went a bit sour.
Our translation of the Bible says that Martha was ‘distracted’ with much serving, but Luke’s words are better translated as Martha was cumbered, heavy laden; the Greek word used here, periespato, is “an old verb with vivid metaphor, to draw around. One has sometimes seen women whose faces are literally drawn round with anxiety, with a permanent twist, distracted in mind and in looks.”3
With her twisted mouth, Martha interrupts the best Church School teacher ever, upset that her sister Mary isn’t helping. But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.”
Let’s remember for a moment that Martha, though she comes off badly in this story, is still honored with making supper for the Son of the Living God. She’s doing OK. But Mary, like Grace Thomas, she got to learn all the dangerous and wonderful and world-changing and saving things you can learn in Sunday School. What kind of things will you learn this Sunday, as we sit, even here, at the feet of Jesus?
1. Scott Hoezee, This Week
2. Robertson’s Word Pictures, Luke 10:39