As we flew back to Denver, when both of my hands weren’t completely tied up either clutching the sides of my seat or holding Bill’s hand so tightly he felt like he was sitting next to a vice grip because of turbulence, I was reading a fairly mindless novel. In the part of the novel I was reading as I was trying not to think about the prospects of plummeting to my death, the main character was attending a Catholic Mass at which the priest pointed out how much of the New Testament talked about hospitality.
Interesting notion, that. I started thinking about it, mainly to refrain from thinking about how the plane was bouncing around the sky like part of a pinball machine. There are all number of examples and stories of hospitality in the Bible, and particularly in the New Testament. In fact, Jesus’ first miracle took place at a wedding party, where his mother pointed out that the wine was running out and it wouldn’t be very hospitable to let that happen, now would it, son?
During the time of Christ, hospitality wasn’t just good manners; it could be the difference between life and death. When Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes, for example, he wasn’t just demonstrating to the people that he was the son of God. Oh, that was undoubtedly the main reason he did it. But the fact of the matter is that those people had come a very long way to hear Jesus speak. Perhaps it was bad planning on their part, but there was no food, and they were hungry. It wasn’t like they could call Uber Eats and order 625 buckets of extra crispy chicken.
The return of the prodigal son was celebrated with a big party and lots of food. It was at a fairly controversial dinner with (gasp!) a Pharisee that Jesus forgave the sinful woman and pointed out that she was being more hospitable than was his host.
My most-loved story of hospitality in the New Testament, however, is the story of Mary and Martha, the two sisters of Lazarus who Jesus loved so much that Jesus cried when he learned that Lazarus had died. My favorite account of Mary and Martha is in Luke’s gospel when he tells us about the day that Jesus came for a visit. As Jesus preached, Mary sat at his feet and listened to him talk. At the same time, Martha was getting more and more perturbed as she did all of the preparation for dinner. If it wasn’t for Martha, the day would have been quite inhospitable. Still, as you will recall, when Martha complained to Jesus that she was doing all the work, rather than the expected pat on the back, Jesus told her Mary was making the better decision.
SERIOUSLY? That’s what I always think when I listen to that gospel. Because there is no doubt in my mind that I would be Martha, down to the whining about doing all of the work. Furthermore, I always think, if Martha didn’t get dinner on the table, there was going to be a whole bunch of hungry people looking for something to eat, and see above. No Uber Eats.
I’m not second-guessing Jesus, mind you (as I glance up at the ceiling to make certain there are no lightning bolts present). But hospitality was always a big thing when I grew up. Big family dinners. Holiday celebrations. Small dinners that might include drop-ins.
And the tradition of hospitality has been passed on to all of Mom’s children and grandchildren as well. There is scarcely a week that goes by that I don’t eat at my brother’s or my sister’s or my niece’s or my nephew’s house, or they eat at ours. That meal will include lots of food, wine, beer, bread, and if Bill has anything to say about it, dessert. It’s what we did when we were back in Denver for that short period of time — broke bread together.
Sometimes it seems like all of our advanced technology has made us less hospitable rather than more. We spend more time looking at our cell phones or our iPads, and less time looking into each other’s eyes. And really, how can you know if someone needs our help unless you are looking at them and talking to them, and maybe even breaking bread with them.
And, by the way, I know what Jesus meant when he said 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. But still, at the risk of that lightning bolt, couldn’t Mary have listened from the kitchen as she helped Martha set the table?