A website that enhances my life is Pray as You Go. It has 10 minute devotional podcasts every day. It is a Jesuit site that promotes Ignatian spirituality. So it is a Catholic site, but I have found it usually very ecumenical.
Today the meditation was about the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42). Martha welcomes Jesus into their home and gets busy with the usual tasks of hospitality. Mary sits at Jesus feet and listens. Martha wants Jesus to rebuke her sister for not helping. Jesus, however, reframes the whole situation. Mary, he says, has chosen the better part.
The Pray as You Go devotional asks which sister has shown Jesus real hospitality.
Evangelical witness often has the goal of getting people to “receive Jesus”. But in the New Testament “receive” usually means to welcome in the sense of hospitality. Early in Luke 10 Jesus gave instructions to his disciples to accept hospitality in homes as they went on their mission of healing and proclaiming that “The kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 10:5-11). In this passage receiving Jesus or rejecting him is the same as welcoming his messengers or not. Compare John 1:11-12.
The Mary and Martha story might be Luke’s way of saying that receiving Jesus is not quite that simple. As crucial as hospitality is, there is a point where being overly scrupulous about it gets in the way. Jesus told the disciples to eat and drink whatever was set before them. So high quality accommodations were not the point.
Martha crossed a line when she found that she could not graciously permit her sister to listen to Jesus.
(Image from christianity.about.com)
The American preacher from colonial times, George Whitefield, had a sermon on this text entitled “The Care of the Soul Urged as the One Thing Needful”. The care of the soul or perhaps (thinking of Michael Fishbane and the book I just read) God-mindfulness should not get crowded out by well-intentioned busyness. Paying attention to God really is the most important kind of hospitality.
Fishbane said that the default position of so many people is going through life on auto-pilot, not really paying attention. It looks to me like Jesus was trying to shock Martha out of her default position and get her to pay attention.