In the book of Luke, there’s a story that I think just about every host or hostess could relate to, whether the event is throwing a big party, or just having someone over for dinner.
Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.”
Luke 10:38-40 NASB
I don’t know about your house, but at ours, if someone is visiting, the main floor requires a rapid clean-up. A more discerning visitor, or one giving us more notice, may even elicit preparations the day before. The entire family is mobilized to pick up, sweep, vacuum, and – in extreme circumstances – dust. The kids will even ask, “Who’s coming over?”, when we activate the Clean-Up Protocol.
In these circumstances, food preparation receives similar attention. The likes and dislikes of the guest are evaluated, and the good serving dishes come out (although why anyone wouldn’t want to eat right out of the pans, I’m not sure). And, when the cook is busy, any other tasks around the house fall to the rest of the family.
If an event like this is fresh in our mind, we could easily side with Martha*. After all, Jesus was an important guest, and Mary’s just sitting around wasn’t very helpful in preparing for the meal. However, Jesus answers differently than we might expect:
But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
Luke 10:41-42 NASB
If we’ve been following Jesus for a while, we may be confident that we’re focused on following Jesus, and immune from other motivations. However…
- Do we keep so busy doing the work of the Kingdom that we short-change our time with God? Are the activities in our life – even if done for good – crowding out our one-on-one time with God? (I’m pretty sure that He would like to talk with you, today.)
- Do we think about the impression we leave on others at the church, rather than glorifying God? Are we so determined to put up a positive front that we are afraid to share our struggles, so that others can pray for us, or serve us in Jesus’ name?
- Do we focus on the look of the church building, and sometimes forget about the body of Christ? Can we spend so much time making a place attractive that we miss opportunities to engage with those whom God loves?
- Do we overwork to support our family, to the point where sometimes we neglect to actually be part of our family? (This challenge happens to be my own.) Or, are we so focused on excelling at work to make some money, that we don’t take the time to occasionally spend some of it for the good of those we care about?
Just as it’s ok to have a sock on the floor when someone visits (as I like to say about my place, “We live in a house, not a museum”), it’s ok if we choose to prioritize time with others over certain other activities. Hospitality is still valuable (Hebrews 13:2), but many people can feel just as welcome if there’s a stain on the carpet…as long as we are spending time with them.
So, when you meet someone new at church, don’t miss seeing them as souls, even if the paint on the wall is chipped, or the microphone went out during service. Technical things can be handled later, but people often need you immediately.
Similarly, the next time someone visits your home, consider grabbing a snack from a bag or a box to serve as an appetizer (rather than fixing something fancy), and spend a little more time with your guest, instead. Or, if your visitors require it, use the extra time to spend an extra moment with Jesus (praying for strength, wisdom, patience, or just help) before coming back into the room to chat with them!
Either way, be the “Mary-ing” kind.
- By the way, our opinion of Martha should not be limited to just one passage. In John 11:20-29, when Mary’s and Martha’s brother Lazarus had died, Martha makes some important statements about Jesus. The entire passage is good to read, but note especially verses 22 and 24, as well as the verse below:
“Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.”
John 11:27 NLT