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…”
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.