“Martha + Mary = Hospitality”
Luke 10:38-42, John 12:1-8
June 10, 2018
Ordinary hospitality leads us to a radical focus on people.
I. Ordinary hospitality opens the door (Luke 10:38-40, John 12:1-2)
II. Radical hospitality listens and serves (Luke 10:39-42, John 12:3)
III. Jesus commends radical hospitality (Luke 10:41-42, John 12:4-8)
I’ve talked before about Rosaria Butterfield. She was a professor of women’s studies, an LGBT activist and a lesbian. But she made the wonderful mistake of doing research before she wrote a book, which would have tried to explain why Christians are so hateful toward women and LGBT rights. One side of her research was a decision to reach out to a pastor named Ken Smith, who had graciously critiqued an article she wrote for the university paper. A second part was to read the book these people used to justify their hatred. Both approaches backfired. Ken and his wife Floy were perfectly hospitable, thoughtful and caring people who somehow made this radical activist feel welcome and invited her into their lives, their thoughts, their prayers and their worship. The book, the Bible, proved to be far different than she expected, deeply compassionate, revealing a God of love and yet perfectly convicting concerning His holiness and her own sin and His offer of a Savior.
So, Rosaria Butterfield has been a believer for about twenty years. She wrote her story in The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith. And most recently she wrote The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World. This book is right on target for our series on Counter Cultural Character and exactly on target for our message today on hospitality. In fact, it was the reason I included hospitality as one of our topics.
Now it would be tempting to read from the book the rest of our time. She’s a great writer and both the thinking and the stories are exceptional. But no matter how Biblical her thinking is, it’s better to preach the Scriptures themselves. So I’ll limit myself to a few quotes and illustrations. I think the key words I can take from her book are in the sub-title “Radically Ordinary Hospitality.” As we look into Luke 10 and John 12 today, at the hospitality of Martha and Mary, we’ll find that ordinary hospitality leads us to a radical focus on people.
What does Rosaria Butterfield mean by radical, ordinary hospitality? She says “Radically ordinary hospitality is this: using your Christian home in a daily way that seeks to make strangers neighbors, and neighbors family of God. It brings glory to God, serves others, and lives out the gospel in word and deed. If you are prohibited from using your living space in this way, it counts if you support in some way some household in your church that is doing it. The purpose of radically ordinary hospitality is to build, focus, deepen, and strengthen the family of God, pointing others to the Bible-believing local church, and being earthly and spiritual good to everyone we know.”
That’s a great definition, yet still fails to do full justice to her ideas. I think, though that we can captures some of it by looking the hospitality of Mary and Martha. These two, along with their brother Lazarus, were friends of Jesus, and they offered hospitality, more than once, to him. We read about it first in Luke 10, verses 38-42. Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
The next time we meet these women is at the death and resurrection of their brother Lazarus. I’m not going to read that. It’s John 11. I will read the first part of 12, because it too offers insight into radical, ordinary hospitality. Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. 3Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, 5“Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. 7Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. 8For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
These two paragraphs can be read in parallel and seen to say the same three things about hospitality. First, that ordinary hospitality opens the door, second that radical hospitality listens and serves and third, that Jesus commends radical hospitality. Let’s begin with the first few verses of the Luke passage. “Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39And she had a sister called Mary.” Martha was probably the older sister, and possibly older than their brother Lazarus, because she is the one who welcomed Jesus into her home.
Think about this. This is not just inviting a friend for dinner. We know Jesus had twelve disciples who followed him most of the time. Earlier in the chapter he’d sent out seventy-two disciples. In chapter 8 Luke had also mentioned a number of women who followed the disciples and contributed to their support.
Inviting Jesus for dinner might have meant serving two dozen or more. Even a willing hostess practiced at hospitality might be stressed. And there was no e-mail, no text. Luke says that while they were on their way Jesus entered this village and Martha offered the use of her home. It’s extraordinary ordinary hospitality, actually. But it’s ordinary in the sense it involved preparing a meal to support table fellowship. We’ve seen before that many of the significant moments in the Gospels take place around tables. The John 12 passage we’ll look at today is one of those moments. The last supper is one of them. It happens in the homes of Pharisees, tax collectors and everyone between. But meaningful table fellowship is utterly dependent on ordinary hospitality. If you’re to have table fellowship, someone has to provide the table and someone has to provide the food. Those provisions are part of what we call hospitality.
Did you ever think of the origin of the word “hospitality?” The dictionary definition is “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.” The word has echoes in two other English words: “host,” and “hospital.” “Hospital” comes from the Latin combination of host with a place ending: “host place.” It was used for an inn or a hotel, but in the Middle Ages it became associated with the place Christians cared for the sick and injured, a hospital. The word ‘host’ itself derives from the Latin hostis, which means "stranger" or “enemy.” It’s also the source of the word “hostile.” My point is that hospitality is not, in its origin, so much about exchanging meals with friends as it is about meeting the needs of strangers, even enemies. We may be called to turn hostility to hospitality. Hebrews 13:2 “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
Martha was practicing ordinary hospitality when she opened her home to Jesus and provided the meal. But ordinary doesn’t mean easy. Mary was seated at Jesus’ feet but Martha, verse 40, was distracted with much serving. “She went up to Jesus and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” Anyone who has served others knows this feeling. You’re running around like a chicken, trying to make sure everything’s ready, and everyone else in the room is sitting there making small talk, not even noticing the need. Now at times they may be doing the work of the Lord. We’ll see that. But at other times they are neglecting hospitality. Rosaria Butterfield says “In radically ordinary hospitality, host and guest are interchangeable. If you come to my house for dinner and see that I’m still teaching math to a child, and my laundry remains on the dining room table unfolded, you roll up your sleeves and fold my laundry. Or set the table. Or load the dishwasher. Radically ordinary hospitality means hosts aren’t embarrassed to receive help, and guests know that their help is needed. A family of God gathering daily together needs each and every person. Host and guest are permeable roles.”
But Martha’s guests and Martha’s sister had not embraced this truth at that moment, and Jesus goes on to commend sitting and listening rather than the serving. Verse 41 “But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42but one thing is necessary.” If ordinary hospitality is so important, why would Jesus not commend Martha and send Mary to help? Gail and I were speculating on this last week and wondered what would have happened if Martha had just sat down and listened. Would there have been no dinner? Or would Jesus have eventually said “Hey gang, let’s help Martha make dinner? Or would he have just miraculously created a dinner? He doesn’t do that often, but the idea that they’d have worked together on the meal is the one that Rosaria Butterfield’s approach would support.
Ordinary hospitality is important. We’ll see that radical hospitality is very important and in many senses the goal, but radical hospitality is built on the foundation of ordinary hospitality. In our other text, John 12, we again see Martha helping to provide ordinary hospitality by serving a meal. John 12:1 “Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table.” We talked about how demanding it might have been to have Jesus and his followers in your home in the Luke text. This one had to be chaos. “Come and see the man Jesus raised from the dead.” I believe, however, that this meal did not take place at Martha’s home. There is a parallel passage in Matthew that takes place in Bethany at the home of Simon the Leper. It involves a woman anointing Jesus’ feet. Not every scholar thinks these are the same event, but many do. I do. But even though it is not her home, Martha is still serving. And if silence in this case means anything, it means she was doing it peacefully.
So the first parallel between the passages is ordinary hospitality. Whether in our own home, helping somewhere else or doing something up here at church, ordinary hospitality lays the foundation for radical hospitality. Rosaria Butterfield tells many stories that show ordinary table fellowship as radical hospitality. Two of them are in this quote: “One of the people who blesses our table is our brother in the Lord, Zion, who worships with us every other week. His sponsor for such highly supervised outings is a member of our church. During some visits, a prison guard comes along to make sure Zion is where he is supposed to be. He’s allowed out of the prison walls only five hours every other week. We aim to make the five hours precious. That day at dinner, he was subdued, unusually quiet. He had tears bubbling in his eyes. We passed the potatoes, and his eyes locked mine, and he said: “I’ve never been in a home before. I mean, it’s been a long time. No. never. Not like this. With love. With Christ. With brothers and sisters. With children. And I belong too. Here.”
He had been in my home before, so I wasn’t quite tracking, but something was triggering something big. As Zion spoke, it all spilled out. So many broken promises, loved ones lost. Insurmountable collateral damage. Impossible to see the way forward, except by the grace of God. As I listened, I caught a glimpse of my son Michael with one arm around his young wife and his just-turned-one son perched on his strong shoulders. Adopted at seventeen, it has taken him many years to receive this table as his own. After all, we don’t look like each other. We don’t share personal history. The betrayals he’s faced go deep. Only in Christ we do share covenantal history and kingly futures. Somehow, at the table, we belong to each other, under God’s authority. The gospel comes with a house key. When table fellowship includes those from prison, orphanhood, and poverty in real and abiding ways, permanent bonds of care and kinship are the consequence. We belong to each other.”
Ordinary hospitality leads to radical hospitality. And radical hospitality happens when the hospitality goes from being meal focused and bed focused and help focused to relationship focused. As Crisis Response has taught us to say, People over projects every time. In both of our passages the person focused-on is Christ. But he calls us to focus on relationships with others. In Luke 10 Mary focuses on Jesus by sitting at his feet and learning. Luke 10:39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42but one thing is necessary.
To sit at the Lord’s feet is to identify yourself as one of his disciples. That’s how it was done in those days. The rabbi taught. the disciples sat at his feet. It’s an intense, intentional focus on relationship. I wouldn’t call it radical hospitality except for the circumstances. Mary is Martha’s sister. There are very few of us who wouldn’t be upset with Mary for her lack of helping. But Jesus isn’t upset, because Jesus knows the power of sitting and listening. Verse 42: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Mary has chosen to sit and listen to Jesus. That’s the one thing, the good portion. We don’t want to miss this, that listening to Jesus, learning from Jesus, following Jesus, abiding in Jesus, sitting at Jesus’ feet is the one thing. It’s the best good portion we could ever choose for our lives.
Okay, so the leap that I’m making here to apply the passage is this: Radical hospitality focuses on relationships. It sits with people and listens.
It’s one thing to have someone over to your house or together for a meal or to offer them a place to sleep or help in time of need. It’s another thing, and, I believe Jesus would say, a more important thing to use that foundation, that ordinary hospitality to focus on relationship, on caring at a heart level. And this caring, so often, is expressed by sitting and listening and responding to a person’s heart and their hurt. You heard it in the example Rosaria Butterfield gave. Not just having a prisoner in your home, but connecting with that person so that he knows the grace of Jesus. Not just having an orphan in your home but connecting with that child, that young adult so that he or she knows the grace of Jesus. Last week we talked about the verse “greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” That’s radical hospitality. It’s even more radical when you’re laying it down not in death but sustained commitment to relationship, long obedience even when the person takes 1.9999 steps backwards for every two steps they take forward.
But both kinds of hospitality are needed. I’ve called this message “Martha + Mary = Hospitality.” You can’t get to radical hospitality without ordinary hospitality and since Jesus rarely does the miracle of materializing dinner on the table or clean sheets on the bed, we need to partner together, use our gifts and talents together to reach radical hospitality. Maybe that means me folding the wash while you cook the meal so that we are free to engage in Christ-centered conversation while others are at our house. Or maybe it means getting together with another family in order to reduce the load. We call it lunch pairs. Or maybe it means having an open table and an open door and being content with whatever’s in the fridge because the conversation needs to be had.
Radical hospitality builds on ordinary hospitality. Ordinary hospitality is the open door. Radical hospitality is the vulnerable sharing of self with others and of the hurts and hearts of others. Last week we talked about friendship as a way of pushing back against our culture of loneliness. Hospitality is the foundation under that. The second text shows this radical hospitality even more clearly. John 12:3 “Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” This is an act of radical hospitality. We all know from the New Testament that it was expected of a host to wash the guest’s feet, or to have them washed, because they were dusty from the journey. Even anointing a guest’s feet was not unheard of. In this case I suspect Jesus’ feet were already washed, per custom, before Mary came with the ointment, the pure nard. This is the extract of a plant grown in India and ‘expensive’ is too tame a word. Verse 4 “But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, 5“Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”
300 denarii is a year’s wages. She comes in and she pours $35,000 worth of oil probably on his head and his feet, though John mentions only his feet. No surprise the fragrance filled the house. And no surprise that Judas objects. You and I might have objected, from pragmatism rather than personal greed. But isn’t that the point, that Jesus is worth it? Radical hospitality embraces expensive and even extravagant service. Where most hosts might wash their guests feet with water, and a few with some kind of soothing ointment or oil, Mary pours out what may have been the family’s life savings to honor Jesus. This is so radical that those who see it are more appalled than impressed.
Radical hospitality is like that. Rosaria Butterfield tells a story through the course of the book about the neighbor across the street. It’s too long to tell here, but it’s about her whole family, the Butterfields loving their neighbor, the neighbor across the street. Turns out that Hank is a shy withdrawn man with PTSD and mental illness. But they befriend him based on a mutual love of dogs.
Somewhere along the way Hank and his girlfriend Aimee begin to run a meth lab out of their home. Hank withdraws from friendship, they never see Aimee and after a little while the lab is busted. They’re both arrested, and the neighbors are furious that the Butterfields have been friends with these creeps. Radical hospitality is costly. To reconcile with the neighbors the Butterfields throw a big neighborhood party and Rosaria’s husband shows from Scripture what they had been trying to do. The Butterfields take in Hank’s beloved and now orphaned dog. Then they pursue the whole visiting-while-in-prison thing, sending food packages and Bibles and gifts and letter after letter, especially from the younger members of the family. It’s costly in time, energy and prayer. It’s also expensive in money. The neighbors understand, but not really. And yet, long story very short, both Hank and Aimee become believers in prison. Hank closes his letters to their kids with the words “Please pray that God will give me more grace to get through today. I want to get out so that we can take our dog walks together. Your brother in Christ, Mr. Hank.”
That’s radical hospitality. It started at their dining room table and walking their dogs. But it ended up with “I was in prison and you visited me.” And Jesus commends this hospitality. Matthew 25:34 “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Jesus commends radical hospitality. In Luke 10 Jesus says to Martha “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Mary has chosen to put people over projects, people over even ordinary hospitality and she is blessed for it.
And in John 12 when Judas objects to this expense on the realistic grounds that this money could have helped people, Jesus says “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. 8For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” Mary honored Jesus and he commends her for it. In the parallel passage Matthew records more of what he says. “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. 13Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” Jesus commends radical hospitality, the kind that is willing to incur great expense to serve.
May it be so with us. May we commit to ordinary hospitality, the shared, communal opening of our homes and our beds and our wallets and our lives to those in need, need of friendship, of fellowship, of community, of the Gospel. The food we share and the beds we offer are the foundation of the radical hospitality that sits and listens, that serves extravagantly. Radical hospitality builds on that foundation and leads to relationships: deep, intimate, supportive and satisfying relationships. The church needs radical, ordinary hospitality. None of us can go it alone. And the world around us needs radical, ordinary hospitality, because the world around us needs Jesus.