I’m not sure about anyone else, but hospitality feels like a loaded word these days. Back before my husband and I had kids or any money to speak of, I considered myself a pretty hospitable person, but now I struggle. Back then, our home was meager, a small 1930’s two-bedroom under 900 square feet. We didn’t have much to offer, but what we did have we shared with friends and guests multiple times a month. Making the transition from poor college kids to trying-to-scrape-by newlyweds was fun and felt adventurous and no one in our social circles knew much of anything different.
In the gospel of Luke we see one of the most famous lessons on hospitality in Scripture. It’s only five verses, but more sermons and books have been written about this scene than many others in the New Testament. You know the one I’m talking about -- Jesus’ visit to the home of Mary and Martha. Of course as a Christian woman, I have heard this one preached time and time again. It’s usually presented as a commentary on time with Jesus vs. time serving Jesus. While that sentiment is definitely legitimate, I think there’s another aspect of the story that’s relevant for us today, especially in our HGTV culture.
When I was a young newlywed and entertaining in my tight home on a regular basis, shows like those on HGTV were not yet the streaming staple they are today (I realize I just dated myself, but it’s fine). And while I love those shows, for me, the more I began to consume them and other similar content, the more my focus in hospitality turned in the wrong direction. Toward me.
Hospitality, by its very definition, is others-focused. It’s about creating a space for someone else. Making room, being generous and providing refuge. Hospitality is not about the host or hostess, and (I may step on some toes, but here goes)…..showing off their stuff. Hear me. There is nothing wrong with having the HGTV decorated home of our dreams or offering the best drinks on the trendiest tray. But sometimes our priorities become skewed or flipped around and showing hospitality becomes a lot less about hospitality and a lot more about the show. A lot less about our guests’ desires and a lot more about our designs.
Some of the best times in my home have been impromptu dinners when I heard from a friend that her husband was laid off or the deal another friend was expecting didn’t go through. Sometimes it’s just that a friend had a bad day and needed some company. When I got those calls, my response was usually something like, “It’s not much, but we just put some soup on. Why don’t you come over for dinner?” In those times, the focus isn’t on me, my dinner, or what my house looks like, it’s on relationship. Being there for each other. Providing a shoulder to cry on or laughs to distract from the pain.
One of the problems in the scene with Mary and Martha hosting Jesus that night is Martha’s focus on herself. My guess is she was trying to make everything HGTV perfect, but that wasn’t important to Jesus. He wasn’t worried about what was for dinner or concerned that Martha’s h’orderves turned out just right; He just wanted to be with them. He wanted to hang out, rest a little, have dinner with his friends.
Sometimes we can miss this. Just like Martha missed Jesus that night, we can miss Him too. When we miss our guests, we miss Jesus. When people come to us for dinner or coffee or just a visit, we often have no idea what’s going on in their own homes. And if we’re too focused on the inside of our homes we may miss what’s happening on the inside of their hearts. We can tend to them, provide a listening ear, just be there. The Master said:
“Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her,” (Luke 10:41-42, The Message).