Theme – Hospitality
The theme that runs through the Readings of this Sunday is hospitality, which in a sense has links to the Gospel of last week which invited us to reach out to our neighbours especially at their moment of vulnerability.
The First Reading, (Gen 18:1-10), presented us with the hospitality of the household of Abraham. According to the passage, it was a hot day and Abraham was sitting under the oak tree in front of his tent, he suddenly noticed some strangers, (three men), standing a stone-throw from where he was sitting. Abraham approached them and invited them to come and have a rest under the oak tree saying, “If I find favour with you, kindly do not pass your servant by. A little water shall be brought; you shall wash your feet and lie down under the tree. Let me fetch a little bread and you shall refresh yourselves before going further.”
Sarah, (Abraham’s wife), baked bread, and the servants of Abraham prepared veal and the family served the food to the strangers who ate with great delight. The strangers were so taken up by the hospitality of the household of Abraham that they promised Abraham and Sarah that their childless marriage will be blessed with a child within the next twelve calendar months. Thus, Abraham and Sarah were also ‘gifted’ through their hospitality. The promise God made to Abraham that he would be ‘father of multitude of nations’ is now being fulfilled.
When we are hospitable, we may even entertain angels unknowingly, (Heb 13:2). We read from Genesis 19:1 that those visitors of Abraham were angels. A story has been told of a priest in Nigeria who decided to disguise himself as a madman to see how he would be treated by his parishioners. When he came to the parish church where he ministered to the people day in day out he was maltreated by some of his parishioners.
I do realise that due the wickedness of some people, charity has grown cold, (Mt 24:12). Stories have been told of people who have gone out of their way to help those they had adjudged to have needed help at the roadside, or those who knocked at their doors for assistance and were robbed or attacked by those they had reached out to help. It is painful when hospitality turns sour, but we must not give up because of some ’bad eggs’ in society.
The Gospel, (Lk 10:38-42), narrated the story of Martha, her sister Mary and Jesus. This was another story about hospitality. Martha, Mary and Lazarus were friends of Jesus and Jesus visited them at home. During one of such visits, Martha and Mary were home. Martha might have been the eldest and an established woman because she owned the house: “Jesus came to a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.”
Martha was enthusiastic to entertain Jesus, whereas her sister Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to him. Martha who felt overwhelmed with all the serving spoke out to Jesus that he should instruct Mary to help her. To Martha’s surprise, Jesus rebuked her for “worrying and fretting about so many things”.
There are different interpretations to Jesus’ motive for criticising Martha. Let me state categorically that it is not wrong to ask for help when we need it. That is acknowledging our limitations. However, in rebuking Martha, Jesus may be stating unequivocally that the Good News was paramount, and everything should be at the service of the Good News, hence Mary must not be deprived of listening to the Good News. Mary’s sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to him has a link to discipleship. Secondly, Jesus may be saying to Martha that one dish was enough rather than many dishes. Thirdly, Jesus may be criticising the act of “doing” in which one is so occupied by activities that one has no time for meaningful relationship with one’s family or friends.
In contemporary society, due to economic demands, one may be putting in too many hours at work that by the time one comes home, one is too tired to have a conversation or interaction with one’s family. Constantly spending such long hours at work may put stress on the family leading to family separation and divorce. There needs to be a balance between work and spending quality time with family. One should always work with the family and not for the family.
The story of Martha and Mary also brings to fore the tension that exists between contemplative life and active life. Both vocations are gifts from the Holy Spirit and need to be nurtured. Each person should be content with one’s gifts. If one is akin to getting something done, to God be the glory, or if one is more of a thinker and a planner, to God be the glory too.
In all things, let us be mindful of the generosity of God, who though rich, became poor for our sake! (2 Cor 8:9).
Fr Chinua Okeke CSSp