Spirituality of the Readings
Two stories about hospitality this week. Hospitality to God.
The First Reading says that Abraham was sitting outside on a hot day. He looked up to find three men standing nearby on the path, apparently satisfying their curiosity about the tent and its occupants. It is not clear that Abraham knew who they were, but we are told that they were God in a special appearance to Abraham.
How does Abraham react to this presence?
Talk about hospitality! He flies into action. He bows deeply. He begs them to relax from their journey and receive comfort, nourishment and rest. Beautiful welcome in the Eastern part of the world.
He rushes into the great tent, issuing chaotic commands to his wife. “Quick, three measures of fine flour! Knead it and make rolls.” He picks the best steer from the flock and orders the servant to prepare it. He dashes outside for curds and milk and at long last, sets the whole meal before them.
Quite a scene. Quite welcoming.
As the dinner progressed, Sarah stood behind the tent flap listening. All at once the men made a sudden, astonishing statement to Abraham. Next year Sarah will bear a son by him. Sarah actually laughs out loud as she hears that her dried-up body, nearly 89 years old, is supposed to birth a tender child.*
Even so, as you may know, this amazing thing will indeed take place, and thank God that Abraham had listened to the men (God).
Second story. In the Gospel, Jesus enters the house of his friends Mary and Martha, and is welcomed warmly. As he sits down, Mary arranges herself at his feet and focuses her wide clear eyes upon him. Meanwhile, Martha bustles about preparing dinner.
Unfair! Tired and irritated, Martha demands that Jesus put a stop to Mary’s lounging and make her come and help.
Jesus says, to quote, “No. Mary has chosen the better part.”
Isn't this unjust to Martha? She should have told Jesus, “We are not having any food tonight, we are both going to just sit and stare at you”!
In truth, Martha’s trouble was not that she was scrambling about, but that as she did so, she forgot about Jesus. She was busy constructing a meal, not making him welcome. He even tells her that she is anxious and worried about many things, and has forgotten the one thing necessary.
What is this one thing necessary? It is relation to Christ. Real hospitality means a two-way relationship in which host and guest open to each other and become present to one another in various ways. Yes, hosts do work on the details, and work hard. But they always remember the visitor they are preparing it for. Excellent hosts manage somehow to get everything ready but also to truly listen to and converse with guests.
That is how we are supposed to act every day. We are to find God in all things, in all the people we know and/or help, and no matter how busy we might be, to relate to them because God is within them, deep in their souls. Touch them. Hear them. Prepare their meal without forgetting them. We will be giving the hospitality to God himself.
Abraham gave it. Mary gave it. Martha forgot like you and I do, but she learned.
Let’s try to learn it too
* Our cutting from scripture this Sunday leaves out the laughing part. If you want to read it, please press here: Genesis 18:12-15.
John Foley, SJ
Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
**From Saint Louis University