Sunday reflection

Reflection: brothers and sisters

“…You are worried and distracted by many things.” 

Jesus, in today’s Gospel Luke 10:38-42, NRSV.

“Whatever the cost, I need to tell my real story.” Hussein Abdi Kohin, aka Sir Mo Farah.

Much has been made recently of the upbringing of Sir Mo Farah, the most successful British track athlete in modern Olympic Games history. It turns out that, due to being trafficked and brought to the UK when he was nine, he isn’t actually Mo but Hussein Abdi Kahin. Working as a servant from so young an age when he had to look after other people’s children and was separated from his real family, running helped him to find his freedom and eventually his true identity as he ran to escape what was happening to him. For many years, Hussein lied for fear of the consequences but, now that he’s divulged what happened to him as a child, telling the truth has lead to the Home Office stating that he won’t be deported as he couldn’t legally have given his consent at the time. An enquiry has been launched and it seems that at least 10,000 and possibly as many as 100,000 people are caught up in domestic servitude every year in the UK – Hussein’s is just one story of many.

His, however, has a happier ending than most and it seems that Hussein will keep his identity as Sir Mo because so many people know him with that name. It was taken from Mohamed Farah, another boy at the time whose place was taken by those who trafficked Hussein instead and forced a false identity on him. The documentary showed him talking to Mohamed on the phone and he, generously, called Hussein his brother instead of having a dispute. What might have happened to him had he come to the UK instead and what would have happened to Hussein had he not?

The answers to that will never be known but the Bible has the story of two actual brothers whose identity was swapped. Esau was the first born but he exchanged his birthright with his younger twin, Jacob, for a bowl of stew when he was famished after hunting. Later, Jacob used the skins of goats to make himself hairy like his brother and, with his father’s poor eyesight and his brother’s clothes, tricked his father so that he received the birthright blessing and privileges instead.

Today’s Gospel involves two sisters, one of whom complains about the other when Jesus comes to visit. Martha asks him to tell Mary to come and give her a hand with the many domestic tasks that she has to do, probably the preparation of a meal. Jesus doesn’t criticise Martha for her priority but replies that Mary has made a better choice by making time to listen to him while he is there – she is sitting at his feet, as would a student listening to a rabbi. By contrast, he tells Martha that she is distracted by becoming so anxious about all that needs doing – she is actually being inhospitable by complaining to their guest about her sister and also asking him to intervene. “Lord, do you not care?” Martha asks, even accusing Jesus himself!

Luke doesn’t say what happens next but the approaches of both sisters are important. Good hospitality involves welcoming guests and paying them attention like Mary but would be diminished without food and drink to offer, which is probably why Martha is distracted. Both listening and doing, receiving God and serving others, are important and this is a homely story of domestic tensions and relationships that many will identify with today. With the rising cost of living, the war in Ukraine, the crisis in the NHS and the increase in Coronavirus, there is much now which will also create distraction and worry. Then, Martha had much to do but forgot that it was Jesus she was doing it for. Mary also probably caused some of her sister’s anxiety by sitting at his feet, a role taken by men in those days, and perhaps a response which surprised Martha who might have been counting on her help. Each of them had choices to make about the daily use of time and their response to Jesus when he arrived. Hussein Abdi Kahin, however, had no choice about the domestic circumstances in which he was caught up but has now found a freedom in which he chooses still to be identified as Mo Farar because that name has become part of his story and identity. 

Esau and Jacob, Martha and Mary, Mo and Hussein – perhaps their stories, identities and responses are similar to some of ours, too?

With my prayers; pob bendith,
Christine, Guardian.