Readings for July 21, 2019
My wife jokes that when she was at home with our children when they were young, she would watch for the mail to be delivered and quickly go out to the mailbox in hopes of running into someone who would, however briefly, engage in “adult conversation.” I get a sense of something similar when Abraham rushes out to greet the three strangers, and again when Mary chooses to sit at the feet of Jesus, while Sarah and Martha respectively find themselves hard at work in the kitchen.
It was hot and lonely in the desert, and greeting strangers could have provided Abraham some respite from the daily grind. But for Sarah, this act of hospitality and conversation required much more than impulsive whimsy to complete, and Abraham’s greeting led to a frenzy in the kitchen as she worked to prepare a feast for the guests.
Likewise, whether Mary decided sitting at the feet of Jesus was her respite from the daily grind is not altogether clear, but Martha seemed to think so and was not fully on-board with the way things played out. Like Sarah, Martha was left in charge of the kitchen work, preparing food and cleaning for their guest. But when she complains, the only explanation Jesus offers for this seemingly unfair split of duties is that he tells Martha that it is not his fault that Mary chose “the better part.”
Hospitality can be difficult work, but we will be blessed by doing so, whether we take “the better part” or the harder part. St. Paul writes of the joy in his toil for the Church in Colossae, knowing his work will result in blessings of a mature faith in Christ. Martha faces such an opportunity, but she can’t help but to complain. It is clear from the familiarity in their conversation that Jesus was a frequent guest of Martha, Mary and their brother Lazurus and importantly, he responds to Martha’s grievances with a familial exchange. This tells a story of how Jesus had grown close to those in the home, and his dismissal of Martha’s concerns also answers them, by reminding her that at least in part as a result of her hospitality, she too has been blessed with a much closer and more familiar relationship with Jesus. It seems that whatever shape my hospitality takes, be it enjoying some conversation, or bustling away in the kitchen, or hurriedly cleaning my home before guests arrive, any action I take to make others feel welcomed and loved will bring me closer to Jesus and bring blessings upon me and my family.
After all, Sarah and Abraham were also blessed in return for their hospitality, for after their important exchange of hospitality and conversation, the guests leave Abraham and Sarah with a blessing that when they return in a year, Sarah would have given birth to the son they have longed for.
Regardless of whether or not I humble-brag to my guest as both Paul and Martha do about how much work it is, or whether or not I consider it a respite from my daily grind as Abraham and Mary seem to do, extending hospitality to a guest is always other-focused. It is a living representation of love for my neighbor. It is a sharing of ourselves, our work, and our gifts so as to allow someone else to share of themselves. If I am hospitable only to those who can better my position, my motives may be questioned. If I am hospitable only to those who can offer nothing in return, my common sense might be questioned. If I do so for both, I am doing the work of God, loving those whom He placed into my life with the gifts He has allowed me to share. Once made, these choices will prepare me to dwell on God’s holy mountain, where I can be sure to find the warmest of hospitality.
All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt 25:35). Proper honor must be shown to all, especially to those who share our faith (Gal 6:10) and to pilgrims … Great care and concern are to be shown in receiving poor people and pilgrims, because in them more particularly Christ is received.
-The Holy Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 53