Becoming Mary: Modern Hospitality through the Lens of Scripture

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Most of us are familiar with the gospel story of Martha and Mary: Two sisters thrilled to have Jesus visit them in their home. But they go about serving Jesus in very different ways.

There have been countless sermons discussing this story’s rich theology. How it teaches us about creating a proper relationship with Christ, and points us to our ultimate goal-to sit at the foot of Christ in Heaven.

But as we enter the holiday season, there are also some practical lessons we can learn from these sisters about modern hospitality.

Mary and Martha Christian hospitality.

Hi there friends! My name is Leslie, and I’m the owner and creator over at Playdates to Parties, where I help busy moms create DIY parties that aren’t overwhelming. There, you’ll find printables, recipes, tips, and inspiration to craft a celebration everyone can love without going crazy. Because planning a party for our families should be fun from start to finish.

The story of Martha and Mary

Before we dive in, let’s take a look at the passage, and also remember the context of this story.

In the gospel of Luke, we see that Jesus is traveling in Judea and Galilee, spreading his message and gathering followers.

“Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 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.”

Luke 10: 38-42
Family and friends eating dinner together.

Hospitality in Jewish Culture

Hospitality was immensely important in Jewish culture. Not only did God command hospitality to strangers in Leviticus chapter 19, the book of Genesis shares the story of Abraham rushing to prepare a luxurious feast for three strangers.

The call to hospitality doesn’t end with the Old Testament. The New Testament continues the theme of loving generosity:

  • In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the father spares no expense to celebrate the return of his beloved son.
  • “When you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind” Luke chapter 14
  • “Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another.” (1 Peter 4)

It’s Easy to be a Martha

I know I fall into this trap frequently.

I start off with grand ideas for my parties – amazing food, cute DIY party decorations, and plenty of games. But it often becomes so much, that even while the party is going, I end up constantly running around to make sure everything is perfect.

In the end, I’m left feeling tired, stressed, and so distracted I didn’t get to enjoy my guests.

Yes, you could probably call me a Martha.

But I don’t think this is entirely a bad thing.

At first glance, Martha is the picture of a dutiful hostess. She’s preparing the food and making sure Jesus and the apostles are comfortable.

These are all good things.

On the exterior Martha is doing exactly what Jesus commands in the gospels – she’s being a good steward of her home, and providing for those entrusted to her care.

Fancy dinner table set up for hosting meals.

Where Martha went wrong

In fact, if you look closely at the passage, Jesus doesn’t tell Martha she’s doing the wrong thing.

So, why did he seem to rebuke her?

Look back at the passage again.

Jesus describes Martha as being “distracted” and “worried” about many things.

Her focus is on the tasks she’s doing, rather than on her guests.

In fact, Martha is so focused on the preparations she interrupts Jesus, whining to him that Mary isn’t helping her.

So, Martha hasn’t only turned her focus away from Jesus, she’s turned it onto herself.

What we can learn from Martha

Martha’s biggest mistake is that she’s not focusing on the most important thing. She wants to do a good job, and doesn’t realize that her hostess duties are only one aspect of hospitality.

Her actions say “I want to do this perfectly”, rather than “I want my guests to feel welcome and loved.”

Mary Chose ‘Better’ 

Again, Jesus didn’t tell Martha that she was doing ‘wrong’, but simply that Mary chose ‘better’.

Instead of rushing around worrying about the things of hospitality, Mary sat a Jesus’ feet listening to him.

This is Mary’s secret to success as a hostess. She focuses on her guests, using hospitality as an opportunity to love and care for others.

Martha has a choice to make.

She can either choose the ‘better’ part and focus on loving and caring for others, or she can continue to worry and be distracted and miss the most important thing in the room.

Two women sitting together with drinks and enjoying each other's company and friendship.

What does this tell us about hosting parties as Christians?

As Christians, there is an essential lesson we can learn from this passage: Hospitality isn’t just about the table settings. It’s about loving your guests enough to give them your full attention,  even when there are other things that you feel need to be done.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make your guests comfortable and to treat them well.

But don’t forget that the better thing to do, is to spend time with them. Listen to your guests, have conversations and make connections.

Like Abraham, rush to prepare a feast. But when the feast has begun, stay with your guests.

Tips for hosting guests successfully

I’ve already admitted that I struggle with being a Martha, (it’s easy when you run a website all about parties!) but with plenty of help, I’ve learned a few lessons that help me focus on being more like Mary instead:

Make a plan.

This doesn’t mean that you have to go over-the-top with tons of decorations or complicated games, but it does mean that you need to think about what you have time to do, and schedule getting it all done beforehand.

The second best thing you can do to stay on track is to have a plan for your holiday party.

Get realistic.

This ties into having a plan, but it’s important enough to  be a separate point.

It is easy to get caught up in the fun of planning a party, but it’s also important to make sure you’re realistic about how much time, energy, and money these things will take.

Hint: It’s always more than you think!

Prioritize wisely.

There will always be things that need to be done, but don’t let those tasks get in the way of your guests.

Prioritize the most important elements first, and then focus on other aspects of hosting as time allows.

Delegate.

Asking for help isn’t necessarily being a Martha; it’s just smart planning! Ask for help before the party starts, either by requesting guests to bring a side dish, or  by bringing in outside help.

Above all, remember that your guests are there to experience a time of celebration with you.

Whether or not you’re hosting a holiday party or just having family over for Thanksgiving dinner, let’s all take a lesson from Martha and focus on what really matters – our guests.

We may not all be perfect hosts, but we can give ourselves over to Jesus and trust him to help us show hospitality in the right way.

“Our Lord does not then forbid hospitality, but the troubling about many things, that is to say, hurry and anxiety. And mark the wisdom of our Lord, in that at first He said nothing to Martha, but when she sought to tear away her sister from hearing, then the Lord took occasion to reprove her. For hospitality is ever honoured as long as it keeps us to necessary things. But when it begins to hinder us from attending to what is of more importance, then it is plain that the hearing of the divine word is the more honourable.”

(source) (Theophylact of Ohrid)
Showing Christian hospitality in our daily lives.

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