Martha and Mary were sisters who followed Jesus. But Like many sisters, though they had things in common, they seem to have had quite different personalities.
Luke 10:38-42 – 38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 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.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Martha was busy. She wanted to serve and make sure all the details were covered. Mary, on the other hand, wanted simply to sit at Jesus’ feet and learn from him.
I do not want to over-interpret this narrative. And, yes, I am going to make a point that is not the sole point of this passage, though I think we can glean it from what happens. We do not know what the busyness is that Martha faced. Was it merely the details of making sure the evening was nice? Was she simply making sure everybody had what they needed? Or was Martha a bit on the fussy side? Was she trying to make everything fancy, special, perfect?
I would guess that Martha was going beyond the level of need. I do not think that Martha was simply making sure the lamps stayed lit and that Jesus’ cup was full. My guess is that Martha was fussing to make things special. I wonder if she wasn’t stressing out that the house be immaculate and not merely clean. I wonder if she was trying to get the nice dishes out instead of the paper plates.
Hospitality is a great thing. In fact, it is a discipline and a requirement for members of the local church. But what is required? There is a balance that we need to walk between nice and cluttered, between clean and sterile, between fancy and homey. If we are not careful, we will, like Martha, pull people away from focusing on Jesus because of our busyness.
When hosting another Christian or family in your home, what do you need to do? You should try to clean house a bit. You do not want somebody to be uncomfortable in the home they are visiting. But you should not make cleaning house such a stress that you would not invite somebody over because of the massive project you put your family through to make things perfect. You should try to take care of your guests, but there is nothing wrong with pulling out the paper plates and disposable cups if that will help you to focus on your friends and not on washing a bunch of dishes. Soup and bread is a fine alternative to a three-course meal if that gives you more time to host more people.
Jesus knew that the best thing for the evening was for the people to be together with him. Martha was distracted with details to the point that she was not with her guests. What we want to do is be loving to our guests. Yes, that means that we try to take care of them and take care of the house they are visiting. But we also need to be honest and real enough that we do not hinder ourselves from being with our guests because we are so focused on cleaning and serving that we cannot relax and have fellowship.