I’ve always been bothered by the story of sisters Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42). In this well known story, we are told that Martha was distracted and frazzled by the tasks of hospitality while Mary made the right choice by sitting with Jesus listening to him speak. Jesus explains to Martha that her sister is correct in spending her time with him because her decision has eternal rewards
What bothers me about this story is that we have often been taught to condemn Martha’s actions. I can’t find fault with Martha, not only because I identify with her type A , can’t sit still, get things done, character traits; but also because I know what it’s like to want to do the right thing for someone only to be rebuffed.
Each time I hear this verse preached in a sermon or used as a negative illustration in a bible study, I so desperately want to rescue Martha from her undeserved bad reputation. I want to reach beyond the pages of my workbooks and devotionals and scream at others, “But Martha was only doing what was expected of her by cultural and social norms! She was being hospitable, not sinful! She wanted to offer Jesus something she was gifted and talented at: hospitality and serving others! She just wanted to feed you Jesus!”
I wonder what happened after Jesus left. If Martha was anything like me, she was probably upset with her sister for yet again not pulling her weight, for upstaging her, for making her look bad in front of a guest. It would be a long time before I would have served Mary any Ahweh and Baklava during our sisterly visits.
Of course God doesn’t condone bitterness and anger; but what He does approve of and encourage is grace, understanding, and forgiveness. Can we see how both sisters were equally hospitable? One wanted to serve with food and other preparations, while the other wanted to serve by being present. Both sisters paid equal attention to Christ in their own way. Let’s not polarize these sisters into good and bad.
Jesus didn’t choose Mary over Martha, he was simply letting her know that it wasn’t necessary to get so upset about her sister not helping. Jesus was correct, it was more important to spend time with him because he would not be on earth for long, however, we have to remember that she and Mary wouldn’t have known this at the time.
I can’t help but wish they would have given more details. Did Mary eventually help her sister, did Martha eventually sit down and relax? We’ll never know, because the point of the story was succinct.
A lesson for us to learn is that hospitality comes in various forms. Let’s be grateful whenever others are there for us. The Mary’s in my life spend time with me; their homes will rarely be clean, they don’t have readily available beverages or food to offer; but what they do give me is their undivided attention in conversation. The Martha’s in my life have clean homes, or at least they do a quick clean up before I get there (not that I personally care about the cleanliness of their home), they offer beverages and some type of food; they also like to do things like pop in a movie, play games, or other activities in the home. Then there are the M&M’s, they have the ability to do what both Mary and Martha did.
However you choose to be there for others, remember to do it with love.
What style of serving is more similar to your own, Mary or Martha?
Do you see Martha as being wrong and Mary as being right? What do you see right or wrong in each woman?
How would you have reacted towards your sister if you were Martha? How would you have reacted to Jesus if you were Martha?
Think of different ways that people show acts of hospitality towards others. Can you think of different ways that people have been of service to you and/or shown great hospitality over the past two months. Let us stop and give thanks for those moments. Peace.