First Reading: Genesis 18:1-10a Responsorial: Psalm 15:2-3, 3-4, 5 Second Reading: Colossians 1:24-28 Gospel Passage: Luke 10:38-42
Attention by Msgr. Richard Henning
Gracious hospitality is at the center of our first reading from the book of Genesis. As Abraham rests in the heat of the day, he sees three figures approach. Abraham’s response to their approach is to hurry forward and urge them to rest. Still in a hurry, Abraham sees to it that they may bathe their feet (helpful in a dusty desert climate), urges Sarah to prepare rich fare, and chooses choice meat for his guests. While we were informed at the outset, that this is in fact a visit of the Lord, it is not clear if Abraham realizes the true identity of his mysterious and quiet guests. In any case, they are welcomed with attentiveness and graciousness. The passage ends with a return of graciousness as one of the guests informs Abraham of the happy and unlikely news that Sarah will have a child in the coming year. This beautiful scene suggests that the hospitality that was so important in a harsh climate was imbued also with a spiritual dimension. The guest might be a visitation from the Lord. This notion may be observed in the later Christian monastic tradition that every guest is to be treated as Christ.
The second reading takes us in a different direction as we read from Colossians. There are scholars who question the Pauline authorship of Colossians and believe that it comes from followers of Paul and his message. Nevertheless, the letter touches on Pauline concepts and in this case, it draws an important theological deduction from the notion that the community is the “Body of Christ.” The letter does not suggest that the sufferings of Christ were not adequate for salvation. It does, however, speak of Paul’s unity with Christ. The Gospel’s warned that disciples would encounter opposition and persecution. The faithful believer remains united to Christ even in suffering and finds hope in that unity. Even as Christ is manifested in His holy ones, so Paul can reveal the Lord in his afflictions.
The Gospel passage from Luke returns us to a scene of hospitality. The passage places Jesus in the house of Martha and Mary. Like Abraham in the first reading, Martha is in a rush to serve the Lord Jesus. However Martha’s hospitality is tainted by her fretting and her complaint to Jesus that her sister should be assisting. Jesus’ response is to praise Mary who sits and attends to Jesus’ words and to reprove Martha who seems to have missed the very purpose of hospitality.
As we read this passage, we would do well to remember our place in the Gospel. The previous passage (proclaimed last Sunday) speaks of the summation of the law: the love of God and neighbor. Immediately following that, Jesus gave a concrete and memorable illustration of the love of neighbor by relating the parable of the Good Samaritan. The context would suggest then that this passage of Martha and Mary intends to illustrate the importance of the love of God. Jesus is not dismissing the beauty and importance of hospitality. Those who failed as good neighbors in the parable ignored the man in the road. Only the Samaritan paid attention and then attended to the man. In this scene, Mary has paid close attention to Jesus while Martha was distracted by the details and petty resentment. Jesus reminds her and us of the importance of attending to Him and to His words.
In the concrete living of the faith we may be tempted to separate our attentiveness to the Lord and our works of service to others. This Gospel passage instructs us to maintain the balance and the unity of the great commandment. Our service of others is rooted in our relationship to the Lord. Our relationship to the Lord is expressed in our service. The two must go together and both require attentiveness: to those in need and to the voice of the Lord. Good Christian hospitality can be a vehicle to unite the two as we welcome and care for the guest and recognize the presence of Christ in him or her.