Reflection for Sunday, July 17, 2016 by Marc Caissy
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
HOSTING THE DIVINE
Gen 18:1-15, 43; Col 1:124-28; Lk 10: 38-42
I have a neighbour. He needs lessons on how to prepare nourishing soups. At first, he simply watched. Now, we cook up a batch together. As soon as it’s ready, we enjoy some and usually end up slapping hi-fives over empty bowls. But not before we’ve had a lively conversation from our differing religious perspectives on love, life and everything in between. As hospitality goes, it’s an enjoyable sharing of food and faith, which has transformed a neighbour into a friend.
In the ancient world, hospitality was a formal process through which strangers were welcomed and transformed into guests. Then, people believed that, through an act of hospitality, God’s powerful presence could and would produce wonders, as in today’s 1st Reading. For his generous hospitality toward three travelers, Abraham and his wife are promised a son.
The Lord’s disciples also learned about hospitality from him. He hosted and fed multitudes. He often compared the kingdom to a great banquet. He even transformed a symbolic supper into a meal meant to feed his disciples until his return. Until then, Christians continue the Lord’s ministry of welcoming hospitality.
Something of its awesome quality is reflected in Luke’s account of the meal at Martha and Mary’s. For too long, though, it has served to contrast “active” Martha and “contemplative” Mary. Without favoring one over the other, or criticizing their differing styles of hospitality, Jesus is intent on teaching them, and us, a lesson in priorities.
Last week, in the story of the Samaritan, religion without love was denounced. Today, Luke warns against religious action without roots. Such action easily turns into just more responsibilities to deal with.
“Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Then tell her to help me.” The poor woman has too much to do too fast. Burdened with noisy neighbours, demanding kids, health issues, job reviews, most of us would readily identify with her. Coming up with a multiple course meal for one honored guest and possibly twelve disciples is possible. But alone? Let’s face it: totally stressed out, who wouldn’t reach for their copy of “Stress Management for Dummies” and complain, even though the problem lies in the decision to prepare so many dishes?
Jesus takes it all in stride. His reply could’ve been a sharp rebuke. Instead, his first words are, “Martha, Martha”. In the gospels, the only other instance when Jesus repeats another person’s name is during the last supper, when the disciples bicker over who should be the greatest*. In both instances, we can sense the warm tone Jesus uses. He isn’t putting Martha down. But this is a prime teaching moment and Jesus affectionately makes his point. In today’s words, Jesus would say, “Martha, Martha, don’t fuss over a casual meal. We don’t need VIP treatment. Let’s spend some quality time together.”
Clearly, in this situation, Jesus gives priority to listening over doing. As a matter of fact, Mary is listening at the Lord’s feet, a disciple’s position, definitely not kosher for women of that time. Jesus appreciates Mary’s hospitality: she listens! She “has chosen the better part”.
At this point, we realize that Abraham’s encounter and the two sister’s story both focus on how to host God, whether in the guise of travelers or in the person of Jesus. But where does the 2nd Reading fit in?
In his letter to the Colossians, the author states his mandate to “bring to completion (…) the word of God, the mystery hidden from ages and generations past.” This glorious secret is Christ in you. In other words, God’s dream of friendship with us has progressed from
– the formal hospitality given to strangers under the oaks of Mamre,
– to the closeness of a meal with Jesus hosted by Martha and Mary,
– to the ultimate intimacy, Christ WITHIN his human host.
Are there guidelines for hosting a divine guest? The liturgy’s responsorial psalm lists several DOs and DON’Ts, from walking blamelessly to avoiding bribes. However, “there is need of only ONE thing”, according to Jesus. While both Martha and Mary’s versions of a heartfelt hospitality are lovingly appreciated, a one-dish meal would’ve been enough. Welcoming Jesus by giving his words undivided attention has priority. That “better part”, promises Jesus, “will not be taken from her”. Or from us, for that matter. Why? Because it teaches how future disciples will be called to welcome Jesus in the simplicity of bread broken and wine shared.
At the Lord’s table, then, where we are lovingly welcomed as guests, in an ultimate act of intimacy, the Lamb of God becomes OUR guest and we his hosts. In such close proximity, we are slowly transformed into becoming the welcoming and caring visible face of our risen Lord, especially to the UN’s among us: the unforgiven, the unwanted, the unloved. But it all begins with learning how to listen. “Listen, says Jesus, I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and eat with you and you with me” (Rev 3:20).
* Luke 22:31-32. « Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail (…) »