holy hospitality and the danger of distraction

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her. Luke 10:38-42

“Martha, you are worried about many things.”

About the dishes in the sink, and the dirt on the floor. About the stain in the tablecloth and the chip in the plate. About the overcooked chicken or that the wine is running low.

But only one thing is needed.

What is that one thing? What is it that Martha got so wrong and Mary seemed to get so right, which warranted Jesus critique? Was Jesus actually offering critique, or was he perhaps offering some sort of freedom?


Hospitality is a holy, holy thing.

Martha opened her home to Jesus of all guests, so its no wonder she wanted to make him comfortable.

But what if the holiness of hospitality doesn’t come from offering our best, instead it comes from offering ourselves?

It comes from inviting guests into our loud, messy homes. Sitting with them, talking with them, listening to them.

“Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.”

She had to cook in order to have a meal to serve.

She had to clean dishes in order to have something to eat on.

Where she went wrong was not simply a pursuit of good hospitality, but a pursuit of perfection, which distracted her from the purpose of hospitality in the first place – being with the people she invited into her home.


I’ve been thinking a lot about busy-ness and stress recently; I’ve always been one to over-commit myself, and I’ve always been an anxious soul. Last year, I began to question the purpose of Sabbath rest, and the ways that carrying a Sabbath perspective into all of my life could ease my stress.

Norman Wirzba, in his book Food and Faith (which I reviewed last week), writes on rest in a way that I have pondered over for many, many months now:

Sabbath is not a reprieve from life, but the putting to an end of the restlessness that prevents deep engagement with it.

Perhaps Jesus wasn’t critiquing Martha’s desire to show hospitality. He was freeing her from the pressure of perfection that kept her from engaging with those around her. He was asking her not to ignore the things that had to be done, but to put an end to the restless quest to do them perfectly, which prevented her from engaging with their purpose at all.


Just before sharing this story, Luke writes of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Oftentimes the focus of this story is that even our enemies are our neighbors. But lets look in terms of distraction. Two men, a priest and a Levite – both religious leaders – were so consumed with their roles and duties that they overlooked the man hurting before them. They were so distracted by their work for God – good work that had to be done – that they ignored the very purpose behind it – to care for others.

This placement was not just happenstance, an ironic matter of chronology. No, Luke is strategically making a statement regarding busy-ness and distraction.


To Jesus, the holiness of hospitality is not in giving a guest the finest of what you have to offer, but in being with the guests before you, in the daily reality of your home. Hospitality is listening to the needs of those around you, honoring those needs and addressing them accordingly.

How can others feel their mess is welcome in our lives if we cannot invite them to the table in ours?

How much more inspiring is it to host, to open your doors and your tables to friends and family and strangers and guests, when you are freed from the pressure of perfection? How much more life-giving is dining with others when you are listening to them talk rather than focusing on the dishes that need doing? How much more restful is having people into your home when you know that you can show them the reality of how you live – with toys on the floor, a stain in your tablecloth, with paper plates or chipped china.


Hospitality looks different in every phase of life – for single folks living in apartments with roommates, for retired folks with grandchildren nearby or spread far away, for young families with small children, for those in small cramped houses or expansive mansions, with a dining table that seats 6 or one that seats a dozen – but it is always a possibility.

So what is distracting you? What is keeping you from engaging with those around you, from seeking hospitality? And what would it look like to put an end to the restlessness that prevents deep engagement?

To remember the purpose of holy hospitality: to re-member our dis-membered souls wrought with busy-ness and perfection.

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