Have you ever considered how much God wants us to be hospitable to him?
Today’s readings challenge us to look at how we invite the Lord into our hearts each day. Are we as gracious and open as a hospitable host, or do we go through most of our day forgetting to keep company with the Lord, rushing from one thing to the next?
Many of us Christians are so busy trying to serve in our families, our children’s schools and activities, and even our local churches that we forget who we are serving. We often lose sight of the Lord himself. The Gospel reading for today portrays this beautifully in the person of Martha, who is so busy serving her guests that she becomes upset and loses sight of why she is serving in the first place: to make a place of welcome for Jesus.
It isn’t that we are unwilling to offer hospitality to God. It’s just that so often the Lord comes in disguise, as a poor person, a child, someone in need. If we aren’t alert, we can miss the Lord as he passes by. Each day we need to reflect on the willingness we have to show hospitality to God. And our willingness to see him in the many disguises he wears.
Unpack the First Reading
In this strange yet evocative story of what the Fathers of the Church consider to be a pre-incarnational manifestation of the Lord, he appears to Abraham in the form of “three men,” two of whom are later referred to in chapter 19 as “angels.” There are many mysteries in this scene. The narrator calls these three figures “the LORD,” which is indicative of the name Yahweh, and yet Abraham, while being very solicitous toward them in the manner required by the manners of the desert, refers to the three in the singular, “My lord,” indicating not the divine name but a polite form of human address.
These three have come on a dual errand. First, they announce the birth of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah in a year’s time, and then two of the three go off in chapter 19 to bring destruction to Sodom and Gomorrah for its immorality. The only survivors will be Lot and his family. The common element in the two very different errands is the gracious hospitality shown the heavenly visitors by Abraham and his nephew Lot.
Both men, although masters of very large households with many servants (Genesis 13), wait upon these visitors as though they were servants themselves, and in each case this is the mark of their righteousness, the hospitality they show. This reminds us that courtesy is more than just good manners; it is a common hallmark of holiness.
Unpack the Second Reading
The mysteries of our first reading are, in some measure, disclosed in St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians. The primary mystery of God’s Trinity, which is only hinted at in Genesis 18 in the three mysterious men who appear to Abraham, is evident at the beginning of this first chapter when Paul blesses the Colossian Church with the grace and peace “from God our Father” (1:2) and commends, first, their “faith in Christ Jesus”(1:4) and then their “love in the Spirit” (1:8). In addition to this central mystery of our faith, this present passage opens other deep mysteries “hidden from ages and from generations past,” now “manifested to his holy ones.” The mystery of suffering is disclosed as salvific, and even a cause for joy when we share our difficulties with Christ and allow him to make of them a share in his own afflictions “on behalf of his body, which is the church.” And we see, too, the mystery of the “hope for glory” that has come to the Gentiles, who, like the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah, “once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (Colossians 1:21, RSV), but have now been made coheirs with the Jews and capable of being made “perfect in Christ.” These two revelations—human suffering and the plan for the Gentiles—represent a great wealth of mystery in just five verses.
Unpack the Gospel
Although it’s not uncommon to see interpreters of this passage portray Martha as the “bad guy” in this Gospel scene, many others suggest that Martha and Mary taken together—and not just Mary alone—represent a composite of what the Christian life ought to look like. Martha, like Abraham in the first reading from Genesis, is the picture of love acting in hospitality, while Mary is the picture of pure contemplative love, gazing upon the Lord. Many religious orders since the Middle Ages, like the Franciscans, Dominicans, and Jesuits, have striven to be both active and contemplative in their approach to the service of Christ.
But in keeping with the Lord’s clear declaration that “one thing is needful” (RSV), the Church has always stressed that prayer itself is the lifeblood of service. Without that foundation, service, however extensive, becomes formal and stale because it won’t be fed by love. And we must recall that the simple contemplative gaze is also a representation of our heavenly goal, the beatific vision, when we shall see God as he is in himself. Contemplation is, we could say, heaven practice, where the one needful thing will be the one object of our constant attention and joy. With no offense meant to the "Marthas" among us (and within all of us), our lives as Christians should rightly express a growing simplicity of focus and less troubling of ourselves about the “many things” of life. And it is only prayer that will enable us to serve without anxiety and to care for others without getting lost in the complexities of life.
Reflect & Discuss
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In this week’s readings, we encounter a God who is willing to knock at the door of our hearts asking for a place of welcome. We see this exemplified in Sunday’s first reading from Genesis where Abraham shows hospitality to the Lord, who appears in the form of three unexpected visitors. What is Abraham’s central plea to the Lord when he appears? How does his concern connect with today’s theme of “hospitality to God”? In the busyness and chaos of our world, we often miss when God “passes by.” In what ways do you miss God passing by in your daily life?
The Gospel story of Martha and Mary gives readers a glimpse into the proper and improper attitudes of disciples, as well as the meaning of true hospitality. How are Mary’s actions a model for Christian discipleship? What does “sitting at the foot of Jesus” look like in your own life? What was wrong with Martha’s service to the Lord? According to the presenter, what were her two faults and how does Jesus correct her?
Reprinted from Opening the Word Leader Guide with permission from Augustine Institute.