As a missionary, my friend Natalie hosts many visitors in her home in Tanzania, Africa. Many years ago she shared her view of hospitality: simple and familiar is better. Her guests always seemed to have the best time when she offered a totally American evening of a casserole for dinner and charades afterward. No complicated meals or perfectly spotless home required—unless she required it of herself.
Wish I could say I had that life lesson nailed down myself, but honestly, I don’t. For one thing, I’m a perfectionist, and for another, I love to cook—so guests find themselves the test subjects of recipes I’ve been meaning to try or old favorites I don’t get to make that often.
But according to Scripture, I’m in good company.
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
My favorite part of this passage is just two words: “Martha, Martha…”
I like to imagine how Jesus said her name. Shaking his head, mildly scolding? Maybe. Or perhaps he had to say her name twice because she was so busy being the hostess with the mostest that she wasn’t really interested in what he had to say. She just wanted her immediate problem fixed.
But the way Jesus spoke directly to people in many cases seemed to reflect his intimate connection with them, as in the case of Mary Magdelene after the Resurrection.
Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. – John 20:16
So, in response to Martha’s frustrated request that Mary get up and HELP already, Jesus spoke directly to Martha’s heart, and to the hearts of generations to follow.
“Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things.”
Jesus didn’t scold her. He didn’t say she was wrong to want to serve or be a good hostess.
He just observed that she was worried about a LOT going on in her life. If I’d been Martha, I probably would have burst into tears on the spot and unloaded my woes.
“Yes! YES! Thank you for noticing! I AM troubled, and worried, and tired, and stretched so thin sometimes that I lose myself. But I don’t know how else to be, because I am needed by everyone else, Lord!”
Who knows what Martha truly thought. Maybe God didn’t include her response because he wanted us to consider what our own would have been.
But in the loveliest, gentlest way possible, Jesus reminded her of what was even more important than all the sacrifice and service that was weighing her down, the one absolute necessity: sitting at his feet, soaking up his words and his presence, and silencing the noise of life for a time.
Unless we take time for that one needful thing, we may, like Martha, become overwhelmed by tasks that once gave us joy. Rather than focusing on serving God to please him, we may look at others and all that they are not doing, and judge them for it, just as Martha did Mary.
An attitude like that would ruin any good we might do with our service. How heartbreaking would that be?
I will always need to work on adding more Mary to my Martha spirit. What about you? Do you find yourself to be more of a Mary, or a Martha? As always, I look forward to your comments.