Jesus visits the home of Mary and Martha today. On the surface it seems like a story of Southern hospitality gone awry.
Martha welcomes Jesus into her home. Mary, her sister, is busy listening to what he is saying, and so is sitting at the Lord’s feet. Martha is distracted with many tasks, and comes to him, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” Jesus does not do so, but rebukes Martha.
Questions of hospitality come. Who is going to get this man a drink? I relate to this story because I, too, like to host friends as they come over. Being the only person throwing a party can be a struggle: I get them a drink. I fix an appetizer. I have to be a host and carry on a conversation with them as well. I have to sit and welcome them and be at ease. Yeah, right!
But is that it? Is that really what Jesus is talking about here? This is one of those stories that in English loses a little of the story’s bang. Here a little knowledge of Greek, as well as knowing the cultural norms of the time helps. There are also a couple code words that meant something in that culture that we totally miss.
One is “many tasks” which literally means “much service”. Later in Luke he speaks of service quite a bit, and discipleship is defined as service. The second clue we get is Mary “sitting at the Lord’s feet.” In our culture this is something the dog would do. We almost see her in a sub-servant role. It is not! Mary is depicted as a disciple!
So when Jesus says, “Mary has chosen the better part” he is saying that being a disciple is more important than anything else at this time. Jesus is also quite the feminist. There is no “woman’s work” in this equation. Jesus raises Mary to the status of a disciple. Martha is only a worry wart.
Ultimately I don’t see anything in this passage about Southern hospitality. I see this story as a time to examine one’s own discipleship. As I welcome people to worship in my big fancy robe, how well am I helping folks to realize there are on equal footing with me and the rest of the church, but at the same time helping them to come and kneel before the master? I am sensing the answer is in servant leadership and modeling the humility of Mary and Martha, openly questioning and following to the best of their ability.