My wife, Liz, and I are first-borns who believe that our siblings had it easier than we did. We both have A-type personalities and like to be in charge. So when it comes to things such as hosting visitors, we’re a lot more like Martha than Mary.
I focus on organizing and cleaning the house, and Liz focuses on planning and handling logistics, especially meals. If we were relay racers, we’d be “Team Martha”: in the days (and hours) leading up to a dinner with friends or a visit from relatives, I get the house ready and bark at anyone—especially the kids—who makes a mess. When our guests arrive, I pass the baton to Liz, who frets over the food and details.
We’ve learned over the years to be a little more like Mary and focus on enjoying each other and our guests. As I scurry around tidying things up till the last minute, Liz admonishes, “Our guests know that people live here!” As Liz worries about being the ideal host, I remind her, “Sit down and relax; we can tackle the dishes later!”
Meals are so integral to the New Testament that scholars joke, “Jesus ate his way through the Gospels.” From dining with tax collectors to miraculously feeding the 5,000 to the Last Supper, Jesus used table fellowship to reveal himself as the bread of life. Resurrection accounts show Jesus eating breakfast with his disciples on the shores of the Sea of Galilee (Jn 21:1-14) and breaking bread with them in a village called Emmaus (Lk 24: 13-35).
If Jesus were to visit our home, I hope and pray that we’d choose “the better part” by putting away the vacuum cleaner and making do with a simple meal so that we could be fully present. Until then, we’ll make sure our table is set for people of all walks of life and that we enjoy the fellowship as much or more than the meal.
When are you more like Martha? Mary? How can you make more room for Jesus? For friends and loved ones?
—Jeremy Langford is the director of communications for the Chicago-Detroit Province Jesuits and author of Seeds of Faith: Practices to Grow a Healthy Spiritual Life