“Finding the Balance”
(From Luke 10: 38-42)
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Growing up, I had a very good friend I will call Kim. Kim and I were in grade school together, and our friendship has continued through all of the ups and downs we have experienced in our lives. Although we have not chatted recently, Kim is the kind of friend with whom you can always pick your relationship up right where you last left it. We catch up and laugh, or sometimes cry, together about the journey we have travelled since we last spoke together. We were often at one another’s home as kids, doing schoolwork projects, or just listening to our “tunes” and hanging out together. That is why you may find it strange that Kim’s mother always treated me like a royal guest. She would set up the kitchen table with all sorts of homemade goodies, and fresh iced tea or lemonade; and then she would coax us to come into the kitchen for a “snack”. Often, Kim’s mom, Margaret, would drop whatever else she was doing to set up the table of snacks for us. She was a warm, hospitable, and welcoming person to all her guests-even to those who were there just to hang out with her kids.
Margaret rarely sat at the table and chatted with us. She was usually off and about her next chore, or busy making preparations to serve other guests she was expecting later that day or the next. Margaret enjoyed sharing hospitality with others, but like Martha in today’s lesson, she often missed the opportunity to experience precious relationship building time with her guests.
Claire was a social butterfly, and the clear extrovert among the group of my high school friends. Wherever a conversation was happening, Claire could be found right smack in the middle of it. People clearly energized Claire, and she knew nearly everyone in the class, as well as the local news. It wasn’t that Claire was intentionally avoiding her share of the workload, she simply needed the social interaction more. Like Mary in today’s lesson, Claire often received flack for appearing to skirt out of necessary work activities in favor of “hanging out” to enjoy herself. But, that is just who Claire was.
We know that all Holy Scriptures are inspired by God, and they have been given to us for our enlightenment and personal growth. Thus, the lesson of Jesus’ encounter with Martha and Mary at their home is more than just a story about the hospitality of serving dinner to an invited guest. If we look deeper into the details of today’s scripture reading, its deeper meaning and life lesson for us will become clear. The storyline shares with us that when Jesus and his Disciples entered a certain village along their journey, they met a woman named Martha, who welcomed them and invited them into her home. Martha possessed the gift of hospitality, for she sincerely desired for Jesus and his Disciples to come to her home. They gladly accepted Martha’s welcoming invitation.
When Jesus and his Disciples arrived at Martha’s home, they met Martha’s sister Mary. Mary found Jesus fascinating, and so she sat at his feet listening to him and soaking in all that he was saying. Jesus and his Disciples were likely talking with Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, although the story does not specify that he was present among them on that occasion. While this time of discussion was taking place, Martha was busy, distracted the scriptures reveal, with the many tasks of preparing the meal for her guests. She was working hard, and she felt her sister Mary should help her, but that is not what was happening. So, Martha approached Jesus to complain about this situation, and to tell him to send Mary to help her with the work. Instead, Jesus replied to Martha, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better portion, which will not be taken away from her.” In essence, Jesus told Martha that she had set herself many priorities about how the meal they were to eat should be prepared and served. Yet, Martha had missed the most important priority amid all of her busy preparations. She had not spent any time talking with and listening to Jesus. Mary had made this component of showing hospitality to Jesus her priority, and Jesus was not about to take this joy from her-even to help with the preparation and serving of their meal. Instead, Jesus invited Martha to fulfill what she needed most, and to join in the conversation.
Our scripture lesson for today teaches us that hospitality has many components, and all of them are important. Obviously, the invited guests need to be fed, and so food Martha was preparing was necessary. But, hospitality also involves the host spending quality time with the invited guests as Mary did; sharing with them, getting to know them better, and even learning from them. Hospitality, like so many aspects of life, is about finding a balance and setting priorities from among the many worthy opportunities competing for our attention to them. In the case of our story, Jesus did not want Martha to miss out on the opportunity to listen and learn from his teaching, as Mary had chosen to do. So, Jesus called Martha into his presence.
Setting and balancing our priorities is an important lesson for us today, just as in Jesus’ time. We can get so caught up in the day to day business that we develop tunnel-vision, and then we miss life’s beauty all around the tunnel we have built for ourselves. Jesus was taking the opportunity to offer Martha back the hospitality she had offered him, by inviting her to join in the conversation. Frankly, Jesus offered Martha radical hospitality, freeing her from the dutiful gender related tasks of her female role of serving. He invited her, guilt free, into a new realm as his invited guest, sharing in his conversation and teaching.
Jesus’ encounter with Martha and Mary in our lesson today calls us to observe how he redefined his expectations, priorities and boundaries for them. It challenges us to reconsider how we set and keep our own priorities, and how we balance the “shoulds” and the expectations that are often placed upon us in our lives. Do we care what others might think or say if we do not do something a certain expected way? Can we strike a balance of the “shoulds” in our lives with other needed and important experiences and priorities for our growth, learning, and spiritual wellbeing? Are we busily giving our time and attention to daily activities and routines without considering whether that time might be better spent in ways that will build us, others, and the kingdom of God? The radical hospitality Jesus shows us places people above presentation, loving, listening to and learning from others above serving them the perfect meal in the perfect surroundings.
And so, church, I pray that we have learned well Jesus’ lesson today about the radical hospitality of being present with others and sharing ourselves with them. We have a wonderful opportunity to serve a meal and enjoy conversation, sharing ideas and mutual learning next Sunday with a group of women visiting our area from Africa. I know that many will say that our church is not yet guest-ready, there is so much cleaning and fixing up of the church that is needed. I truly believe that the message from our lesson for today is meant to remind us that it is not the building we are offering our guests, but our hospitality in the form of our love, our time, and our faith. There will be food, for sure, for we Methodists know how to do a pot luck dinner, but the priority for us, as for Martha and Mary, is to show hospitality that balances the tasks of serving a meal with quality time for sharing with and learning from our guests. I invite you to join us as we find this balance. May God’s people say Amen!