Martha, Hospitality and Jesus

July 21, 2019


Hospitality is wonderful!  I truly think that being hospitable, and receiving hospitality are two of the great gifts of life.  I actually believe, especially as a Christian, that the willingness to invite someone into your home is an act of love.  In the same way, accepting another person’s invitation of hospitality is the other side of the same coin.  Allowing yourself to receive hospitality, can be as important as the giving of it.  In the giving and receiving of hospitality relationship happens, friendships are formed and love is active.  No wonder Jesus sat down and shared a meal with so many different people during his ministry.

Sometimes I ponder upon all of the hospitality that I have received in my life.  I try to remember the different dinner tables at which I have eaten, the innumerable sofas that I have sat upon, and the various pillows that have cradled my head over the years.  There are too many to count!

Yet, certain incidences are very memorable.

In 1992 I sat in a home perched upon one of Bergen’s hills.  The home overlooked the city, although the evening I remember was in November, so the windows simply showed night.  My host with whom I spoke, was a man I had met that day.  His daughter lived in the U.S. and was my traveling companion’s Norsk teacher at university.  She had invited us to stay with her parents when we visited Bergen, and so there we were.  Her father, a learned man, wanted to talk about culture, true cultures of which, he claimed the world had only known seven.  It is a conversation that I have pondered upon over the years, and as I have learned more and more about Norwegian society (not culture, for he believed that neither Norway or the U.S. were true cultures!)  Yet as I have learned about Norwegians I am now truly astounded that this man and his wife invited us to stay in their home for three nights, never having met us before!  What true hospitality.

Ten years later, Emily and I were traveling through Karelian, Russia visiting fellow Christians in the region around Lake Ladoga.  We had been going from church to church with an American church group that supported the nascent Ingrian Lutheran Church in Russia. On this trip we stayed in hotels, except for one night.  In the city of Kontupoja, upon the shores of Lake Ingega we were hosted by families of the local congregation.  Emily and I were hosted in the home of a family of four, who lived in an apartment of two rooms and a kitchen, plus toilet and washroom.  The older child, a teenaged son did most of the translating for all six of us as we ate together and shared stories of our lives.  Our shared Christian faith helped us to leap over the cultural divide and find commonality and joy in our conversation and fellowship together.

When it came time for us to sleep, surprisingly, the father, mother and daughter left their home to go sleep at her sister’s home, leaving us with their son as host for the night.  They had done so, that Emily and I could sleep in their bed and have the privacy of their room.  What a gift of love was that family’s hospitality, and a gift that I have obviously never forgotten.

Yet not all gifts appear because one receives, but also when one gives.

We have given hospitality to many people too, and thus been blessed through sharing the gift of love.

In the winter of 2002, on a night in which the temperature fell to negative 32 degrees celsius in the forests of Northern Minnesota, Emily and I hosted two men from a church in the country of El Salvador, in Central America.  I mention the cold because these men were bewildered, and even frightened by its intensity, and the white world of snow and ice in which they found themselves.  So, we not only offered them warm beds, but the warmth of Christian fellowship as we all shared in a stumbling conversation in a mix of half-learned English and Spanish.  Though we struggled, we laughed and learned, and shared…we connected.

In none of these stories that I have told, do I especially remember what we ate, or how clean was the room in which we sat.  No, what I remember is the conversation, or even more, the intimate loving feel of the fellowship given and received as humans sat down and shared of their thoughts and experiences.  I remember the sharing of our lives, and the creation of loving relationship.

In truth, what I am describing is what is at the heart of Christianity, because it is at the heart of Jesus.  Love given and received.  Relationships formed, and lived.  For is Christianity not, truly the relationship between humanity and God, brought to completeness in the love of Jesus?  It is a love offered us by Jesus, and shared in relationship.

It is this, which we see in this short story from Luke’s gospel.

Martha, we read is working hard to host everyone, Jesus, his disciples, her brother Lazarus we assume, possibly other men from the town, maybe even some of the women who were part of Jesus’ retinue…and her sister Mary, we learn.

Usually, we assume that Martha is busy making the meal, and maybe she was, but perhaps  she was cleaning up afterward.  Who knows, but the focal point of the story is that Martha is upset because she is doing it all on her own.  The hospitality has fallen upon her, and I think, she feels that the hospitality is not complete until every dish is dry, and the table is clear and clean.

And to Martha’s irritation, there sits Mary, listening to Jesus like there is nothing else to do.  She is sitting there like she is his disciple, like she is a man, like she is allowed to do that!

Finally Martha cannot take it anymore and confronts Jesus with the situation.  What does Jesus do?  Jesus tells her, and so tells us, what is most important.  As Jesus puts it to Martha, “There is need of only thing.”

That is to do as Mary is doing, to sit with Jesus, to be in relationship.

Like Mary, we need to sit at Jesus’ feet, in faith as his disciple.  We need to sit and listen and learn.  We need to respond in prayer and questioning.  We need to be moved and changed by his teachings.  We need to wrestle with what we have learned.  We need to hear his words of grace, peace and love.  Jesus is the one and only thing that we need, first and foremost.  This is where we start.  This is where we should always start, sitting at Jesus’ feet growing in relationship, basking in his love like Mary did.

“There is only one thing…” Jesus said to Martha.  Jesus is it, in the end, there is only Jesus.

Jesus, is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning, and also the end.  He is, he was, and he is to come.  Jesus is all we need, and more than we can want.

Accept his hospitality and fellowship, and give him the same, a space in your life.  It doesn’t need to be all cleaned up, and dinner doesn’t need to be perfect, or gourmet, and definitely don’t think that the dishes need to be done, and the table wiped down before sitting down and giving him your attention.  Simply, sit, listen, learn, grow, be forgiven and forgive, be loved and love, and know, believe, “There is only thing…” and, Jesus is it.


Bible References

  • Colossians 1:15 - 28
  • Luke 10:38 - 42



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