Christian Hospitality- Mary Not Martha

a couple of years ago

During the first year of my marriage, I dreamed of being the perfect hostess. In my mind, I effortlessly entertained  throngs of people each and every night. The reality was that there was very little time to plan grand parties. When friends did come over, it was usually pizza and board games. I began to get frustrated, thinking that I was failing at hospitality. Like all subjects, the Bible has plenty to say about Christian hospitality and what that really means.

Christian hospitality glasses

A Tale of Two Women – Mary and Martha

The New Testament tells the story of two women, both focused on serving their guests. Their interpretations differ greatly, and Jesus lets us know which one understood the true meaning of Christian hospitality. Let’s consider the story of Mary of Martha.

“Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”  Luke 10:38-42

We see these two sisters served their guests differently. Martha spent her time cleaning and “cumbered about  [with] much serving,” while Mary “sat at Jesus’ feet and heard his word.”

In my mind, I know that I need to be a “Mary.” My inner “Martha” just keeps getting in the way.  The problem is that horrible thing called “pride.” I take pride in a clean house. It makes me feel good when guests compliment my cooking. I worry that they might go away unimpressed with my housekeeping skills. PRIDE… and misplaced pride at that! 

The majority of guests will not remember what you served or whether or not your baseboards had dust on them. They remember the fellowship. Conversation, laughter, sharing our lives with one another… that is Christian hospitality.

Model Yourself After Mary – True Christian Hospitality

When we have guests over, we often want to give the impression that we live in a perfect home. The reality is that our children fight, laundry piles up and dog hair floats out from under the couch (ok… maybe that’s just at my house).

Martha would worry about all of that. Why do we act like Martha? Any guests that come into your home also have hectic lives. If we were to show up unexpectedly at their house, I’m sure they would be shoving some things in a corner. Instead of choosing to spend quality time with our guests, we feel we have to run around making sure every little thing is perfect. In our minds, that is what being hospitable is all about.

Hospitality is Biblical. Right?

Maybe… but if we look closer at Luke 10, we see that Christian hospitality has less to do with being a “Martha” and more to do with being a “Mary.”

Mary was less concerned with cleaning and more concerned with her guest. She didn’t worry that there was dirt on the floor, (honestly, her entire floor was probably dirt). We see in verse 40 that Mary’s attitude really annoyed Martha.

However, Mary knew that her time with Jesus was limited and she decided to spend every minute she could with him. In verses 41 and 42, Jesus explains to Martha that although she is “careful and troubled about many things,” Mary has “chosen that good part.” (Luke 10: 41,42). She chose true Christian hospitality instead of simply being a host.  

Understanding Martha – And Yourself

You should keep your house picked up. Nobody is comfortable in squalor; but, don’t let your focus be on your surroundings. Prepare ahead of time so that you can sit and enjoy your guests. Let your “Martha” out before your guests arrive and put her back after. “Mary” should be the hostess of the evening.

I am sure Martha thought she was doing the right thing and I bet she was very proud of the meal she had prepared and the service she had provided. However, she was so concerned with cooking and cleaning that she missed Jesus in her home. I hope that as a hostess, I don’t end the night unaware of anything my guests had to say because I was busy scrubbing dishes.

Looking back, some of my favorite memories are of times when my husband brought friends over unexpectedly. I might not have appreciated it fully at the time, but those impromptu visits gave me an excuse to relax and say “C’est la vie” (Whatever). Allow yourself the freedom to enjoy life.

Remember What the Bible Teaches About Christian Hospitality

The next time you have guests over, no matter how much you consider them to be royalty, stop and remember that they are human too. They have a life just as busy as yours and I am positive that unless they have a weekly maid, their house gets dirty. Instead of trying to pretend you have it all together, try to enjoy the company you have before you. Anyone who comes into your home has come there to spend time with you, not your house. Yes, clean your home and prepare a nice meal, but once everyone has finished eating and the plates have been moved to the sink, simply relax and enjoy the conversation. Christian hospitality is a lot less about a perfect meal and more about listening to what your guest has to say.

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