21 July 2013Luke 10:38-42
“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.’” (vv. 40-42)
Poor Martha, she was only trying to be a good host. Jesus was a travelling preacher, dependent on others for food and safety. He should have been grateful for a warm welcome, and the chance the rest and experience his host's domestic skills. But rather than being grateful, Jesus take the side of Martha's sister, Mary, who has rather scandalously assumed the male role of someone who sits at the teacher's feet (verse 39).
In trying to do the 'right thing', Martha had forgotten that hospitality is not about a domestic performance, but instead a focus on the guest. And this was a guest who wanted to give, to share his message of life and love.
Martha was caught up in her desire to do and to give. How often is it easier to give than to receive? The temptation is to focus on what we want to put into a situation, what we can contribute, and what we think is the right thing, without being aware of what the other person wants or desires.
The 2011 report to the Methodist Conference, Of equal value: poverty in the UK, showed how people experiencing poverty described what it was like: "poverty is being given endless bowls of soup and cups of tea when what you want is a proper meal ... poverty means having no choice." People who receive help or charity are expected to be grateful. But what if they want something else - a choice, to be listened to, justice...?
If we are to offer true hospitality, Jesus' example in this passage suggests it is not about being the most generous host, or putting on the best domestic performance. Instead it is about focusing on the other person, offering what they want. And of course this might mean that they end up giving, and we receiving.
- Have you had a situation where you expected to give, but instead have received? What happened?
- What is it like to receive true hospitality?
- To what extent do we try to 'do to' Jesus, instead of receiving him?