When I go backpacking there are several things I do, U make sure we know the trail, where the trail we are following intersects with other trails, if any of those paths provide ways to get out of the woods early should we need to, I make sure we bring enough food, to where the shelters are, and where our sources of water are, so we will have an idea of how long we will need to make our water last between opportunities to fill up. When you are traveling on foot, it vital to make sure the basic needs of food, water and shelter are accounted for. It could be quite disastrous to find yourself lacking in any of these areas.
In the ancient Middle East, towns and villages tended to form around places of reliable water. Anyone who traveled would plan their routes so they would be traveling from town to town so they could be assured of reliable water. Towns were also the best places to find food and shelter. Because of this a culture of hospitality formed. The rules of hospitality governed people’s interactions with strangers. A stranger is anyone who does not “belong” to a particular town, community, or group. When a stranger came to town and came to your door you were required offer them food, water and shelter so that the person. In providing water you not only provided water for the traveler and any animals they may have for drinking, but you also washed the stranger’s feet, allowing the stranger to be clean of the dirt and the dust they had acquired from their travels. And let me tell you after hiking through the woods for a couple of days, having a wash cloth and some water in the car at the end of the trip to wipe off the acquired grim is needed.
Hospitality was therefore not at simply about being polite or kind, or even generous, is was about survival. The offer of food, water and shelter were vital for the stranger’s survival as they traveled. Without it they would perish. Refusing to offer a stranger the basic necessities of food, water and shelter, was akin to seeking for them to die, because by withholding these things and sending them away would inevitably result in their death. So anyone who refused to offer hospitality to a stranger was considered an enemy.
The rules of hospitality not only governed what someone was required to offer to a stranger, but also governed the actions of the stranger. A stranger was to take whatever was offered and could not refuse it. The idea being only an enemy or someone who was seeking to due you harm would refuse something freely offered. When the rules of hospitality were not followed enemies were made. It is out of the rules of hospitality that people came to believe that sharing a table, eating with another united you, bonded you to one another. This resulted in the idea that anyone who shares a meal with you is automatically a friend.
Jesus and his disciples have been traveling toward Jerusalem. At the end of chapter nine, Luke tells us that Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem. Ever since then Jesus and his disciples have been slowly making their way toward Jerusalem. As they are traveling, they came to a certain town, and are welcomed into the home of a woman named Martha. Jesus, having just entered this town is a stranger there. Martha, having welcomed him into her home is required to offer hospitality to Jesus and all those traveling with him. Martha is busying herself to provide food, water and shelter to thirteen plus people. This was no small task.
Jesus has not been silent when it comes to matters of hospitality. When Jesus sent out seventy disciples to teach and preach at the beginning of chapter nine he told them, “Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there.” That is they should accept the hospitality that is offered graciously. Do not spurn someone who offers hospitality but remain with whoever offers it and accept it. Jesus also tells them, if someone did not welcome them they were to “Shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” If you are leaving a house and your feet have not been washed and therefore have remained dusty the person has not shown you proper hospitality. So if the dust remains on your feet when you set out to leave, shake it off before leaving. Shaking the dust of your feet is a silent way of showing your displeasure and indicting them for failing to offer even the basics of hospitality. This is preferable to choosing to regard that person as an enemy.
In a similar passage in Matthew chapter 10, Jesus tells his disciples, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” “Welcome” is the language of hospitality. Welcoming someone was showing them hospitality. As disciples we are to accept hospitality offered to as hospitality offered to Jesus. On the other hand when you are offering hospitality you should do so as if you are offering it to Jesus, all guests, all strangers should be treated not only with hospitality, but the hospitality we would offer if Jesus the stranger among us. (Although this is not the focus of my sermon today, the idea that we should treat all strangers, who come to us for food, water, shelter or protection, as if they were Jesus himself speaks directly to us today)
And if we are still uncertain what Jesus has to stay about offering hospitality, we have the parable of the Good Samaritan. And Emily wonderfully showed us last week how Jesus expects us to treat a stranger, not only doing what is “expected” of us, providing basic provisions, but going above and beyond to assure the safety and wellbeing not only of a stranger who comes to us, all who we encounter on the road. In the good Samaritan everyone is a neighbor and everyone is a stranger and should be treated as such.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus teaches about the Good Samaritan and then the very next thing we have is Jesus coming to Martha’s house and Martha welcoming him into her home. Martha is simply putting Jesus’ teaching into actions, something we would expect any good follower of Jesus to do (then as well as now). She is showing hospitality to Jesus, she is accepting Jesus and therefore “accepting the one who sent him.” She is not turning away the stranger, which Jesus would have been because this was not his community, this was not his home. So least we jump to incorrect conclusion and assume that Jesus is telling Martha, and possibly therefore us, to disregard the rules of hospitality, we cannot forgot, in several places directly before this Jesus has shown that the giving and receiving of hospitality is a part of what it means to be a disciple.
If Jesus is not telling Martha to get out of the kitchen, stop making the preparations required of you by the rules of hospitality and come sit at my feet like your sister what is he telling her? Let us begin by looking at Mary. Although we usually want to make this passage all about Mary and what Mary is doing, she is actually just a background character in this passage. She does not speak for herself and actually does nothing. But we do know that while Martha is doing the work of offering hospitality to Jesus, Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet.
Not too long ago (in the last sermon I preached for you – which was three weeks ago), in Luke Jesus was practically accosted by a demoniac who lived among the tombs, once he was set free of his demons, the people find him clothed, in his right mind and sitting at Jesus feet listening to him. At that time I told you that this was remarkable because sitting at a person’s feet was the place of a disciple. And now we have Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet. She is sitting in the place of a disciple.
It may not seem all that radical to us today, but this was not traditionally a place for a woman. Jesus is not only allowing her to do this but then he refuses to rebuke her for doing so. This was a huge statement about who could be a disciple. We had learned from the demoniac any man could be a disciple and with Mary we learn that any person can be a disciple.
In not refusing to rebuke Mary for sitting and listening to him teaching, is not the same thing as calling Martha to abandon her role as host and abandon the work of hospitality. Jesus and his disciples have been traveling. They are hungry. They need food. They need water. Preparations need to be made. Martha is doing what Jesus called his disciple to do. She is showing hospitality. She is welcoming Jesus and his disciples into her home. She is providing for their needs. She is doing the work of being a disciple, in literally accepting Jesus into her home she us taking to heart his words about how accepting Jesus is accepting the one who sent him. In many ways she is applying the lessons learned in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan in welcoming Jesus and all those who traveled with him into her home and providing for them what was needed for them as they journeyed toward Jerusalem. Because the road to Jerusalem is ultimately the road to the cross, in her own way, Martha is preparing Jesus for his death and resurrection. She is not, not being a disciple in this passage.
So if Jesus is not telling us that we should abandon the work of showing hospitality to strangers in favor of sitting and learning or that there is dichotomy between the work of hospitality and being a disciple, as I have already point out, in light of Jesus’ teachings in the parable of the good Samaritan and the other things he has said in regards to showing hospitality, what is he telling us.
This is not about Martha ceasing the work of hospitality and coming to sit at Jesus’ feet to learn like Mary and be a disciple. What is going on here? Let us begin with what Luke is telling us about Martha? It says, “Martha was distracted by her many tasks.” Is not that she is doing these things, but that she is distracted by them. In fact, when Martha comes to Jesus, asking him to tell Mary to come help her, Jesus says to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.”
Jesus does not call her out for being busy. He does not instruct her to stop working. Jesus tells her that she is distracted by many things. What Jesus is calling her out about is “being distracted”. She has allowed the work she is doing to be a distraction. It is not what she is doing that is wrong, it is how she has allowed the work she is doing to become the focus and not why she is doing it, or the One for whom she is doing it. She is “distracted by many things,” and Jesus is calling her back to the “One thing,” that is Jesus.
As Christians it is easy to become distracted by the many things we see as important to being disciples. I mean, there are many things we should do as disciples. Things as simple as coming to church and being a part of the body of believers, praying, reading our Bibles, doing the things it takes to keep a congregation up and running, as well as the work of going into our community and our world with the love of Jesus and the good news of the gospel. Even the work of welcoming the stranger can become a distraction to us. The work of the Church is not an end in itself.
The work of keeping a congregation going for the sake of the perpetuation the existence of that congregation is not why we gather. It is not why we come here. Making sure Cambridge Church of the Nazarene is, is not our goal; it is not our purpose. It is a good thing. I want this congregation to be here. In fact I truly believe that God has amazing work for us to do and desires to do amazing things among us. But we do not exist so that we can exist. We are not Christians for that reason.
We do not continue to hold Bible study, for Bible studies’ sake. We do not pray each Sunday because, that is what congregations do. We do not read our Bible simply because reading the Bible is a good thing. We do these things because they help us focus on Jesus. Jesus is the One thing that truly matters. When our focus is on Jesus we do all things because of Jesus, because Jesus teaches us to do these things. We gather because Jesus calls us together to be the Church to be the body of Christ, something we cannot be on our own. We listen to and study the teachings of Jesus because that is how we know and understand what it means to be the people Jesus is calling us to be. We go into our towns, and neighborhoods because Jesus sends us into the world sharing the good news. We love because the life and love of Jesus compels us to.
None of these things are things we should be doing, or even things we should stop doing, but the problem arises when they become the focus, our goal. When these things become our distraction, then we are like Martha we are distracted by the many things and have taken our focus off the One thing, off of Jesus Christ himself. What we can learn from Martha, and therefore Jesus this morning is that learning to be a disciple looks like different things. It can look like sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to Jesus. It can look like a person reading and studying their Bible in the early hours of the morning. It can look like a group gathered to study and to learn together. It can look like you all sitting here this morning listening to this sermon (just like it looked like me studying to present it earlier this week). It can also look like someone doing the work that needs to be done. It can look like my girls weeding the garden this week. It can look like Emily gathering and sorting the mail. It can look like Brandon and Patrick counting the money after service on Sundays. It can look like Caroline washing the dishes at the end of fellowship meal and it can look like Vincent making sandwiches for when we go into the park. It can look like all of these things. Learning and being a disciple is all of these things. It looks like each of these things at different points. But it is not these things. Doing any one of these things, doing all of these things is not the focus of discipleship. Learning from Jesus is knowing that Jesus is the One thing that truly matters. We do all the many things because of the One thing; because when we align ourselves with Jesus, when Jesus is at the center all these flow out of that. We do things because of Jesus; because we love Jesus, because we want to be like Jesus and looking like Jesus is what it really means to be a disciple.