Sara Martin
(Luke 10:38-42)

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Today’s second reading comes from the Gospel According to Luke. Earlier in chapter 10, Jesus sent out seventy of his followers to all the places he planned to visit on his journey to Jerusalem. Jesus instructed them to take nothing with them and to accept the hospitality that was offered and to cure the sick in that region. If they were not met with hospitality, Jesus instructed them to turn from that place and wipe the dust from their feet in protest. After the seventy returned and reported on their travels, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan to answer the question, “who is my neighbor.” Friends, listen to what follows after that:

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)

This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

In a story that often is interpreted as pitting Martha and Mary against each other, the active life against the contemplative life, we can find a different sort of story, one in which Martha welcomed Jesus as the head of a household would. Interestingly, the name “Martha” comes from the Aramaic for “lady” or “mistress,” and is the “feminine form of ‘Lord’” (Winsome, 609). So, Martha, the lady of the house, welcomed Jesus; she received him under her roof and under her care. In the New Testament, the word for welcome is used only three other times: in Luke, when Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus to his home (Lk 19:6); in Acts, when a convert named Jason was accused by an angry mob of “entertaining” Paul and Silas as guests (Acts 17:7); and in James, when he described the righteousness of Rahab, the prostitute, who welcomed Joshua’s spies into Jericho and helped them escape (James 2:25; Josh 2:1-21). Zacchaeus, Jason, Rahab, and Martha welcomed others into their homes, meeting their needs, offering protection, showing hospitality.

What is hospitality? What did it look like in the first century? What does this story about Mary and Martha reveal about hospitality? And what are we to do? Various scholars suggest that hospitality relates to the process of a stranger being transformed into a guest, even a friend. In the ancient near eastern world, hospitality was a required; it was an obligation to provide shelter and nourishment to strangers and travelers. For the Hebrews, in particular, hospitality was an essential practice as they had been the recipients of God’s hospitality, more on that in a minute. In the ancient world, hospitality was characterized by rigid structures, delineating the responsibilities of both the host and guest. It typically followed a three-stage process where first the stranger was tested, an initial determination as to whether the stranger was a threat, moving to the stranger being treated as a guest, and finally, upon departure, the guest being a transformed stranger, now a friend, who would praise the hospitality of their host. The host offered patronage and protection to the guest who might have had little to no legal standing in that town or region. The host saw to the guests’ needs, attended to them, and defended them if the guest, and, thereby, also the host, was offended or insulted. For the guest’s part, they were to respect the host and other guests and to remember their place, not acting as if they owned the joint; they were expected to accept what was offered and not ask for more than that (Malina, 408-409). In an exploration of hospitality in Genesis 18, where Abraham offered the three visitors a “little water” and a “little bread,” one scholar suggests the practice of offering “just a little thing” was used to avoid making the guest feel like they were “imposing” upon the host (Vogel, 166). After the invitation of hospitality was accepted, the host could then offer more, as Abraham and Sarah did when they prepared an abundant feast for their visitors using the finest flour and best meat.

This story of Abraham and Sarah showing hospitality is but one instance of this theme that we find repeated throughout the Bible:

  • From the moment of creation, when God created the world and all that is in it and created humans as invited guests (Janzen, 4-5);
  • To when the Hebrew people were strangers in Egypt, and wandered in the wilderness, God providing for their needs — water, manna and quail, shelter from the sun, and protection from the night (Janzen, 7);
  • In God’s words to Moses for the Hebrews, that we heard Rebecca read from Leviticus, commanding them to love their neighbor and to treat the alien, the foreigner, as a citizen, as themselves (Lev. 19:18, 34);
  • To when Jesus invited and welcomed all into God’s kingdom, eating with tax collectors and sinners, the outcasts and unwanted in society, and who also received hospitality from Zacchaeus, Martha, and others (Janzen, 10-11);
  • And into the time of the early church when believers shared all things in common and welcomed traveling ministers, like Paul, into their homes (Pineda, 34).

The expectation was and is that, we, as recipients of hospitality, extend the same to others.

Hospitality didn’t involve a tangible exchange, a payment, between the host and guest. In some ways, it is an exemplar for grace – a gift, an unmerited, unearned, unrepayable gift. While reciprocity at some possible future time might be expected when the once host arrived at the door of the guest, hospitality from the host was and is a gift to the guest.

When looking at our scripture passage from Luke, we can clearly see Martha as the host, seeing to Jesus’s needs. But I would suggest that Mary also acts as host and highlights a sometimes neglected aspect of hospitality – attending to or paying attention to the guest. By sitting at his feet listening, Mary engages with her guest, sees, and knows him. In The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel, Brendan Byrne writes, “Mary has recognized who this visitor is and received and him with a hospitality of loving attention and listening that is truly appropriate.” He further suggests that “Martha should be content with preparing the one dish that ordinary hospitality requires,” remember the “just a little water and a little bread” offered in the Sarah and Abraham story, “and [Martha should] join Mary in her deeper hospitality.” When we bustle about in preparation, wanting to make things perfect for our guest, focusing on elaborate and lavish accommodations, are we focused on the right or good thing? This passage is calling us to pay attention to Jesus and God’s word, to the guest before us. The primary emphasis for hospitality is not food or shelter, though those are certainly important, but rather the focus is the guest. If our focus is not on our guest, can we truly see and know the person we are serving and what they need and want? Are we actually providing what they need and want? Do we take the time to recognize the image of God in them?

While we can easily read this passage as Jesus’s rebuking Martha for her busyness, for her service and ministry, we can alternately see how Martha’s attention was divided and drawn away from Jesus and how Jesus redirects her attention to him. In the Africa Bible Commentary on this passage in Luke, Paul John Isaak writes of Martha, “she is the hospitable mother of the house who welcomes a preacher and performs the practical tasks that the visit demands. In fact, her work is repeatedly described as diakonia, which would later become a technical term referring to serving at the Lord’s Table, proclaiming his message, and providing leadership in the church” (1252). Isaak continues, “Given that diakonia is presented positively everywhere else in the New Testament, it is difficult to see that here it should suddenly represent a mistaken choice. Rather, what Jesus disapproves of is the way in which Martha goes about her work, with fuss and agitation” (1252). In the New Revised Standard Version, the words Jesus used to describe Martha, “worried and distracted,” are mild compared to the Greek as the word translated as “worried” means something more like “disturb greatly,” “panic,” or “make a noisy upheaval or tumult” (Biblehub, 2350). When the same word is used in Matthew, it is translated as “making a commotion” (Mtw 9:23). So here, Jesus responded, not to her service, but to her disruptive attitude, “Martha, Martha,” and, as one scholar writes, “invite[d] Martha to settle down and receive his hospitality” (Mittelstadt, 136).

As Jesus so often did, he turned things upside down. He became the host offering hospitality to Martha and Mary. The roles of guest and host were inverted. Thus, the one who came as a stranger and was granted shelter, nourishment, and attention can become the host bearing gifts. In Practicing Our Faith, the book around which our Lenten sermon series is based, Ana Maria Pineda reflects on hospitality and defines it as “the practice of providing a space when the stranger is taken in and known as one who bears gifts” (31). She points out that in the New Testament the word for stranger can also mean “guest” and “host” (33). The same is true for the Latin root of our word hospitality. Being a guest and being host are the two sides of hospitality that shift in our interactions with each other. In our passage, Martha was drawn away and distracted by her hosting duties; she caused a commotion, stepping out of her role as host and demanding that Jesus also overstep his role as guest and tell her sister to help. But Jesus offered Martha a gift instead. As Pineda writes, “he teaches her that on this day it is better to sit and receive” (34). He became the host and gave her the a gift of presence, of being with her, seeing and knowing her.

Practicing hospitality can be a risk and a challenge. We risk being changed, transformed by our encounter and interaction with the other, by the unique gifts and stories they may share with us. But it is a risk that we are called to face. When we baptize children and new members, as we did today with Virginia, we acknowledge that they are loved by God, and we welcome them into the family of faith. When we do this, we extend hospitality; we welcome them to the Lord’s Table as family for God’s feast; we invite a new presence into our circle, making room for them, their experiences, their ideas, things that could change us and unsettle us from our comfortable routines. Should we risk it? Should we dare? Like the ancient Hebrews, we have a moral obligation to offer hospitality, as we have received it from others, from God, at the Baptismal font, and at the Communion table.

As you consider, ponder, and practice hospitality this week, I encourage you to think back to a time when you were the stranger, the one who was unknown. Maybe when you first came to Trinity? Or if you’ve grown up here, when you started at a new school or college? Or the first day of boot camp and you didn’t know anyone? What was it like to be unknown, to be the stranger? What acts and words of hospitality and welcome meant the most to you? What do you wish you had received?

Think also to a time when you were the host, providing hospitality to another? How did you meet their physical needs? Did you also provide hospitality by your presence with them, listening to their stories, seeing the image of God in them? What gifts did you receive from your guest?

Think also about our church, where we say that we are growing together, welcoming all. Are we living into that? How do we show hospitality, extending an invitation and welcome to guests and visitors? Where can we enhance or expand our hospitality to be warmer or more inclusive?

Beyond our gut reaction of, of course!, consider would Jesus, a rugged, road-weary, man of middle-eastern descent, with threadbare clothes, and a startling message that changes how we think about ourselves, God, and our relationships with God and others, would he feel welcome here or in our homes? 

In the name of the One Ever For Us, the One Ever With Us, and the One Ever Through Us, Amen.


* Because sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation, the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation. 


Works Cited Accessed 11 March 2023. 

Byrne, Brendan. The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel. Liturgical Press, 2015. Proquest doc id: 4659041.

“Guest” in Harper’s Bible Dictionary. Edited by Paul Achtemeier, 362. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1985.

Isaak, Paul John. “Luke” in Africa Bible Commentary. Ed. Tokunboh Adeyemo.  Nairobi, Kenya: Word Alive, 2006.

Janzen, Waldemar. “Biblical theology of hospitalityin Vision, Spring 2002, 4-15.

Malina, Bruce J. “Hospitality” in Harper’s Bible Dictionary. Edited by Paul Achtemeier, 408-409. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1985.

Mittelstadt, Martin William. “Eat, Drink, and Be Merry: A Theology of Hospitality in Luke-Acts” in Word & World, Vol. 34, No. 2, Spring 2014, 131-139.

Munroe, Winsome. “Martha” in Harper’s Bible Dictionary. Edited by Paul Achtemeier, 609. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1985.

Pineda, Ana Maria, RSM. “Hospitality” in Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People. Ed. Dorothy C. Bass. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010.

Vogel, Walter A. “Hospitality in Biblical Perspective” in Liturgical Ministry, 11, Fall 2002,  161-173.