Distracted by the Details | Hospitality vs Entertaining

Depressed and sad young woman in kitchen

The scripture about Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42 has always troubled me. It goes like this:

“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me,” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

My problem with this scripture is my loyalty to Martha. She is the one I relate to the best. And for goodness sakes, she’s doing all she can to take care of unexpected guests!

Villages weren’t exactly just down the block from one another, so Jesus and the men with him likely walked a long way to get there; they were probably tired and hungry. Martha saw them and invited them into her home and immediately set about to meet their physical needs.

So far, so good, right? Her gift is hospitality and she is using it. There’s no carry out from fast food, no in-home chef to whip something up, no grocery store with pre-made platters of chicken wings that can be brought in on the spur of the moment. It was all on her to take care of the men.

And, in that culture, it wasn’t like one of the disciples might jump up and help. So, what else was she to do? She was likely the older sister – the one in charge who made the invitation – and hospitality required the offering of food and drink.

So how did she go so wrong? Of course, her resentment toward Mary for not helping is the obvious thing. I can imagine Martha slamming around pots and pans and wondering when that no-good, lazy sister of hers was going to hightail it into the kitchen and do something for once.

But just the other day, I read that scripture again and a word jumped out at me that shed some light. It says in the ESV, “Martha was distracted with MUCH serving…” and in the New Living Translation “Martha was worrying over the BIG dinner…”

Cheese bread with olives on the table at the window

It struck me that it wasn’t necessarily wrong for Martha to use her gift of hospitality to feed hungry men, it was that she was making TOO MUCH of the meal. Instead of pulling out the grapes, cheese, and crackers, she was whipping up fried chicken and mashed potatoes. She was fussing over what beverages to serve instead of filling a water jug. In her desire to honor Jesus, she got caught up in making the meal too big so that it distracted her from enjoying the relationship.

There was a way to feed everyone with something simple that wouldn’t require Martha to bustle around and grow resentful of her sister. A jug of water, bread, and cheese would have satisfied everyone physically, and allowed time for their spiritual growth.

But pride in her skills as hostess took first place.

I’ve heard it said that to entertain is about the host and to give hospitality is about the guest. Things went south when Martha chose to entertain instead of give hospitality. Then it became about her instead of about her guest, Jesus.

Angela Correll is the author of Grounded.

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Angela Correll (12 Posts)

Angela Correll is a seventh generation Kentuckian. She has written over fifty columns for local newspapers about life, family, and farming. She is the co-owner of the Bluebird, a farm-to-table restaurant, promoting local food produced in a humane and natural way, as well as a shop, selling handcrafted goat milk soap. She lives on a farm with her husband, Jess, and an assortment of cattle, horses, goats and chickens. "Grounded" is her first novel.


  1. In our home when we entertain my husband is the person who welcomes the guest and entertains them till I can get the meal on the table. It’s the clean up afterwards that I can become distracted with. I should be more concerned about visiting our guest.
    Martha was probably distracted by trying to get too much done in the preparation of putting a meal together for 12 disciples plus Jesus. This was a big meal and Martha wanted to impress Jesus. She became anxious about the meal getting cold before she could serve it nodoubtly. Jesus knew what was on her heart. Though a kind gesture to offer to fix a nice meal He didn’t want to see Martha upset with her sister.
    Mary on the other hand had become distracted with the things Jesus was talking about. When Jesus told Martha she was worried too much about things I believe he ment a meal is a temporal thing. Now what Mary was concerned about was what she was learning from Jesus’s teachings. Food for the soul. This was eternal and Jesus wanted Martha to hear the things he said also.

  2. I too have always struggled with why Martha was in the wrong. I am the oldest in my family (of nine children, of which 6 were boys and of the very physical wrestling variety), and during funerals and large family gatherings, I have always found refuge in the kitchen….especially when things of the family “go south’. So i have always had a different outlook at the entertaining, hostessing and cooking of the meals. i can always hear most of what is going on, pipe in when i feel I have something to say, but out of harms way. It’s more peaceful and safer in the kitchen.

    So I have to say…your perspective really shed a light on the whole Mary/Martha delimma that i have struggled with. Thank you for your insight. I have printed this story and will tuck it in my bible for the next time I deal with Mary and Martha in a bible study. I won’t fill so conflicted when the talk turns to Mary having the right idea.

  3. Perhaps the story illustrates in a very real way how tempting it is to be concerned about doing our work, believing that work is the priority in life, when all the while we are missing the truly eternal things of life which is being close to God. After more than 45 years of housekeeping, I know that I had too often put my housekeeping at the top of my priority list. My husband put his business at the top of his. We were always sure however that we did these things for love of our family. The mistake was that though this was providing good things, they cannot replace the things that are eternal such as peace and time spent connecting in love to others. Cultivating those in your spirit does not come automatically — they take time. And so we’ve finally learned that when the opportunity comes along, as it did for Martha and Mary, we must stop and take the time — enjoying life by enjoying God’s presence.

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