Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 21, 2019)
Today’s Gospel story is so familiar to us that it’s easy to miss how extraordinary it is.
Jesus is going against all the cultural conventions of his day. He is a guest at the home of unmarried women - unmarried men didn’t do that. He allows a woman to serve him - notice that Abraham served the guests in today’s first reading. And Jesus is teaching Mary, a woman - in Jesus’ day, only men were disciples.
While the circumstances of this event are unconventional, so too is its message. Poor Martha is very busy about all the tasks of hospitality that is a very important virtue in the Middle East. I’m sure we can all identify with her when she’s upset that her sister isn’t helping her to be hospitable.
Jesus gently reminds her that her anxiety, her upsetment, has distracted her from what’s really important in hospitality - listening to her guest. Hospitality first and foremost concerns making the guest feel welcome - feel at home. It’s hard to do that if we don’t take the time to sit down with the guest and listen to whatever he or she has to say.
Today’s story of Abraham’s hospitality reminds us that God is present in every guest. We can reverence his presence by listening to one another. We might be surprised at times by what we hear!
There is also a wider lesson in the story. Always wanting to be busy about serving and becoming anxious about it are traps for the disciple. In order for our serving to have its greatest benefit, we must first take time just to be with the Lord in prayer - listening to whatever he may have to say to us. Our effort to listen first keeps our service focused on sharing the Lord’s love in all we do.
Hospitality, a welcoming attitude, is a great virtue in a disciple. Taking the time just to be with a person allows the Lord’s love to touch them. May each of us learn a valuable lesson from listening to the Lord’s instruction to Martha today. May our welcoming attitude to all we meet today bring them a greater sense of being loved by our God, of being at home.