Spirituality of the Readings
Two stories about hospitality this week. But note well, they are about hospitality to God.
The First Reading says that Abraham was sitting outside on a hot day. He looked up to find three strangers standing nearby on the path, apparently nourishing their curiosity about the tent and its occupants. It is not clear that Abraham knew who they were, but for our part we are told that they were God appearing to Abraham.
How does Abraham react to this presence of God?
He bows deeply. He flies into action. He begs the men to relax from their journey and accept comfort, nourishment and rest. Beautiful hospitality in this Eastern part of the world.
Abraham quickly rushes into his great tent, issuing pell mell commands to Sarah, his wife. “Quick, quick, three measures of fine flour! Knead it and make rolls. I will get the best steer and command the servants to prepare it.” He dashes outside to get curds and milk and after a long time, sets the whole meal before the men.
Quite a scene. Quite welcoming.
As the dinner progresses, Sarah is standing behind the tent flap listening. All at once the men make a sudden, astonishing statement to Abraham. Next year Sarah will bear a son by Abraham.
Sarah actually laughs out loud as she hears this absurdity about her dried-up body, nearly 89 years old. She is supposed to issue forth a tender baby.*
Even so, as you may know, the amazing thing does indeed take place, after a time, and thank God that Abraham listened to these men, the presence of God.
Second story. In the Gospel, Jesus enters the house of his friends Mary and Martha, and is warmly welcomed. As he sits down, Mary organizes herself at his feet and focuses her clear wide eyes upon him. Who is preparing the dinner? Mary’s sister Martha bustles about doing just that.
Martha grows tired and exasperated, of course, and finally comes over to demand that Jesus tell Mary to stop lounging and help out a little.
Surprisingly, Jesus says, no. “Mary has chosen the better part,” he explains.
Maybe Martha should have said, “We are not having any food tonight, we are just going to 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 not making him welcome, she was constructing a meal. He even tells her that she was anxious and worried about many things, not the one thing necessary.
What is the one thing necessary?
Relation to Christ. Real hospitality means a two-way relationship in which host and guest both 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 while they prepare. Excellent hosts manage somehow to get everything ready but also to truly listen and converse with the one who has come.
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 meals for their presence without forgetting about them. We will be giving hospitality to God himself.
Abraham gave it. Mary gave it. Martha forgot like you and I do, but she learned. Let’s learn it too.
John Foley, SJ
Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
**From Saint Louis University