16th Sunday in Ordinary Time—July 21, 2013
by Fr. Brian Mullady, O.P.
Purpose: It is a very sad fact today that etiquette seems no longer in vogue. People do not dress for others, show respect to others or, in many cases, even have table manners. There seem to be no more laws of hospitality. Knowing how to welcome guests, showing them respect, which is very important in ordinary life with human beings. It is even more important in religion with God, for in that case, God is dwelling with men in their souls. What hospitality will they offer him?
Readings: Gn 18:1-10a ● Col. 1:24-28 ● Lk 10:38-42
Abraham stands as the original genial host in the first reading from Genesis. He welcomes the three strangers to his home as guests with great respect. The fact that he prepares such a sumptuous banquet for them demonstrates that he understands that they come from God. Indeed, in their promise of the child to him, they are identified with God. Ancient Christian tradition saw in these three strangers a symbol of the Trinity. The Trinity greeted him, spoke with him, and sat down to eat with him. He received them with an open heart and great esteem.
The tradition of a fitting welcome for God is demonstrated in a more graphic way in the reception Martha and Mary have for Jesus. In Jesus, God has condescended to come and live among men. He did not live as a recluse in the desert, but visited ordinary people. He brought grace and redemption to their ordinary human situations. Preparations to receive a guest like this are vital. Martha, like Abraham, wishes to put on a special banquet, and is caught up with physical preparations. These are important. But she lets herself get so carried away with this aspect of hospitality that she is resentful that her sister, Mary, does not help her. Mary is also preparing a reception for the guest, Christ. Her preparation is a spiritual one in her soul.
We are to welcome Christ in our souls. Since the Original Sin, we have become troubled and worried about many things by giving in to our desire to dominate and control others. This causes great noise in our souls, and we cannot listen like Mary. Addressing our egotistical desire to dominate and control situations and others is a part of our own crucifixion. What are we putting to death? Our disordered desire to run the world springs from an exaltation of our egos. Paul shows us that we must address this beginning with ourselves. “In my flesh, I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church” (Col 1:24).
Martha was right to show concern for material hospitality. But this means little without spiritual courtesy. Once this occurs, then physical and spiritual courtesy towards God coincide, and Martha, in the midst of her kitchen, can welcome Christ, too. When this occurs, can we truly listen to the Lord in our souls, welcome him with a heart adorned with generosity, and with Mary, choose the better part?