A Matter of Balance
Isn't it great to be on the receiving end of hospitality - warmly welcomed, made to feel at home, well fed, made sure you are comfortable in your room with adequate blankets, towels etc, and then next morning given a hearty breakfast?
In Genesis 18:1-15 and Luke 10:38-42 we have people offering hospitality. Abraham and Sarah generously welcomed strangers into their tent home, washing their feet, and turning on a real feast for them which included meat from the fattest and most tender calf, freshly baked bread from the finest floor that Sarah had in the pantry, and fresh milk and cream. These men were strangers, but Abraham and Sarah knew how to be hospitable.
As the meal progressed one of the strangers said, "Nine months from now I will come back, and your wife Sarah will have a son." Sarah laughed. "Do you know how old I am? I'm way passed child bearing age. And take a look at Abraham!"
Nine months later the ladies’ bowls club really had something to talk about. "Look what a little food, polite conversation and old fashioned hospitality got Sarah. A trip from the geriatric ward to the maternity ward."
There were a couple of sisters over in Bethany - Mary and Martha. Jesus was on the road travelling and Martha in her typical way opens her house to him and warmly invites him in for a meal. And like Abraham and Sarah goes to great lengths to ensure that her guest is well cared for.
Now let's put Jesus' visit to Martha in context. In Luke we heard a lawyer ask Jesus about what he must do to receive eternal life? Jesus pointed the man to what the Scriptures say, "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and love your neighbour as you love yourself" (Luke 10:27). Do you remember the story that Jesus then told to the lawyer? The parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37). A man, on his way to Jericho, falls among thieves. They beat him up, leave him "half dead." Now, two men go down the road: a priest, a pious layperson. They both pass by the unfortunate traveller without helping. A Samaritan, a lousy Samaritan, was the only one who stopped and helped the suffering stranger, receiving him, bandaging him, risking his own life for the life of the wounded stranger. "Go, do likewise," says Jesus.
So maybe Martha heard that story of the Good Samaritan and took it to heart. Here is Jesus, out in the road. "Come on over to our house," she says. "In two hours I'll whip you up the best kosher meal you ever ate."
See? Martha is doing what Jesus said to do. She has gone and "done likewise" received this hungry, needy stranger into her house. She is being the Good Samaritan. She is taking the Scriptures seriously - to love your neighbour as you love yourself. She's in there working like a dog. So let's not get too tough on Martha and bag her for being so busy in the kitchen looking after her guest. It would seem that she is doing just what Jesus had said to the lawyer in the parable. "Go and do likewise."
But there's her sister Mary, lounging at the feet of Jesus as he explains to her the finer points of what he taught about the Kingdom of God. "Hey," says Martha, wiping her dishpan hands on her apron, "Jesus, how about telling that egghead sister of mine to get in here and help? 'Go, do likewise,' right, Jesus?"
"Wrong, Martha," says Jesus. "Settle down and let's talk. Doing is OK. But there's much to be said for doing nothing, for listening. Mary knows.
Note carefully that Jesus doesn't tell Martha that she shouldn't be serving. It's good to serve others and to care for their physical needs. But what Jesus does do is to gently rebuke her because she is anxious and troubled about many things. Her enthusiasm for serving has got her in a panic, so much so that she has forgotten about the guest. Jesus wants her to put first things first. What Jesus in effect is saying is that it is good to be busy serving others, and doing this and doing that, but when the guest has arrived, it is time to stop what you are doing and listen to what he has to say? As one person put it: There is a time to go and do; there is a time to listen and reflect. Knowing which and when is a matter of spiritual discernment.
On the other hand Jesus is not saying that we should only be Marys that is to simply sit around and listen and talk all day and never get out in the kitchen and get involved in the serving. It seems that Jesus in this 10th chapter of Luke is telling us that there must be a balance between doing and listening. Remember he is saying all of this in the context of the "great Commandment" to love the Lord you God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and love your neighbour as you love yourself".
These familiar stories are illustrating how to do this commandment - like the Good Samaritan and Martha we are to be dedicated to caring for and serving the needs of our neighbour, loving our neighbour as we love ourselves. On the hand, like Mary, we are to be attentive to the Lord, listen to his Word, and spend time with him in prayer, worship, and study, loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. This is not a case of being either a doer or a listener but finding a balance of being both.
This also has something to say to congregations also. There are those congregations who love to come together - they have great worship, fine friendship groups and Bible studies but when it comes to doing something, taking a risk as the Good Samaritan did to reach out to others, to serve others, to meet the needs of those in need, to better minister to those around them, you should hear the excuses. They prefer to "pass by on the other side" than get too involved or take too great a risk and get back to studying their Bibles and prayer circles.
There are also those congregations that are so busy; members are so involved in every kind of activity and organisation. There are groups and committees, and welfare activities, craft sessions, any number of children's groups, and youth groups, music groups - all so impressive and the visitor stands in awe at how busy everyone is. But in all that busyness I wonder if Jesus would also say to them, "You are worried and troubled over so many things, but just one is needed."
Our text gives a balance that busy active people need to stop and listen to Jesus, read his word, believe in him, grow in their faith and love, hear his word of forgiveness, grow in their understanding of God's will. We can go, go, go as Good Samaritans but never stop and hear from the one we are serving. Take Jesus as your example, see how he took time out for prayer, and worship in the synagogue and temple even though he had a busy life caring for the sick, raising the dead, and forgiving the sinner.
We want to be like Mary. We know a close relationship with Jesus is important. We also know that we need to be aware of our place and role in the kingdom of God and of the mission that the church has. We know that to learn what part we play as members of the church in that mission, and to learn what it really means to be a Christian in this day and age, we need to sit and listen and learn at the feet of Jesus.
But we also know that we find it so hard to sit and listen when there is so much to be done and we need to go, go, go. The challenge for each of us is to realise there is a time and place for everything. As we heard before, "There is a time to go and do; there is a time to listen and reflect". And this text is reminding us in our busy lifestyles, not to be overcome with the going and the doing to the detriment of listening and reflecting at the Master's feet and seek to know his will for our lives and congregation more clearly. And then to decide to go out sharing, befriending, working, meeting, witnessing, cooking, painting, gardening and in so doing demonstrate Christ to the world.
Jesus entered the home of Martha and was given the kindest hospitality that anyone could be given. When Jesus comes into the lives of people things happen. Here we see a rabbi, a Jewish teacher, sitting down with women and teaching them. Apart from the fact that here a rabbi is teaching women, single women at that, he is telling them, "I'm passing through town on my way to Jerusalem. I'm on my way to Calvary. Then you'll need the Word more than food. Your fresh-baked rolls are great, Martha, but as they say, 'You can't live by bread alone' (Deut 8:3; Lk 4:4)." He spoke these tough words to busy Martha just a few verses after he took his sharp left turn toward Jerusalem (9:51). He taught them that the Son of man will be handed over to be cruelly treated, killed and on the third day rise again.
Fixing the meal, serving the Lord, being the Good Samaritan was important for Martha, but not so important that it should totally consume time spent sitting at the feet of the Lord. What Martha thought was going to be a matter of fixing up something nice for her guest turned out to be something completely different. As she joined Mary, heard his words, and saw the vision of the cross on his back. Martha's view of things changed in the presence of her guest.
"Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest" we often say. As we welcome the Saviour daily into our lives and sit at his feet, hear his Word, speak with him in prayer, something will happen in our lives also. We will begin to see things differently, and all the more eagerly be Martha's and Good Samaritans and love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind; and love our neighbour as we love ourselves."
A Life That Says Welcome- Karen Ehman
Untamed Hospitality - Elizabeth Newman
Vince Gerhardy Blog
Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition - Christine D. Pohl
The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World - Rosaria Butterfield
The Turquoise Table: Finding Community and Connection in Your Own Front Yard - Kristin Schell
The Art of Neighbouring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door - Dave Runyon and Jay Pathak