St. Martha and the Paradox of Hospitality


Traditional image of St. Martha, casually slaying the devil.

Gospel Reading for July 17th, 2016

Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him.  She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said,“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

I’ve always felt a kind of kinship with Martha because I think I would have reacted exactly the same way.  Martha often gets criticized for her part in this story.  She complains to Jesus, her honored guest, and receives a correction.

As usual with Scripture, there’s more going on here.  Martha, as the older sister (explained in John’s Gospel) invites a stranger, and the men traveling with him, into her home.  There, she begins to serve her guests.  We can only imagine the kind of pressure Martha is under here.  The son of God and his disciples have come to her home.  Are the dishes washed?  Are the cushions in order or are they in a heap on the ground as usual?  What kind of food do I have to prepare?  Is there time to run to the market?

And then there’s Mary, sitting at the feet of her guest.  Sitting.

Jesus and his disciples need to be served.  Notice that Jesus does not correct Mary for asking if anyone would like something to drink.  He corrects her for her anxiety.

Here’s the paradox of hospitality: living rooms need to be cleaned, dishes need to be washed, food needs to be served.  However, if we allow ourselves to be anxious about these things, we miss out on our guests.  Our guests were the whole point in the first place, especially if the guest is the Son of God.

” Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.” Hebrews 13:2

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