Every moment we have the opportunity to show love and care is a golden moment of hospitality. Hebrew 13:2 says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that, some have entertained angels without knowing it.” It expresses the liturgy of today and questions the spirit in us while exercising these virtues. Do we show hospitality grudgingly or cheerfully? How do we relate with our visitors? Are our doors or gates open to welcome them or do we shut our gates against them? The first reading presents to us how Abraham and Sarah welcomed three visitors to their home. When Abraham saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and he bowed himself to the earth and offered a great sense of hospitality. Though we do not know if Abraham immediately understood the identity of his visitors, he did honour them as his superiors by the act of bowing to the earth. He enthusiastically offered the hospitality of his house to these travellers.
“He hastened into his tent,” which seems to go beyond the great sense of hospitality that was common in his time. He understood that there was something special about these three visitors. Dramatically, in the previous chapter, Genesis 17:1-22, God appeared to Abram, made a covenant with him, changed his name to Abraham, and made him an ancestor to a multitude of nations. God promised to give Abraham a son through his wife Sarah (17:21) after the change of her name from Sarai. While Sarai signifies (my lady, or my princess, which confines her dominion to one family), Sarah signifies (a lady or princess, without restriction, or princess to a multitude). In today’s pericope, God appeared to Abraham by the Oaks of Mamre.
Apparently, a short time after the event of chapter 17. The visitors called his wife by the new name given to her in Gen 17:15-16 and God reconfirms His promise of a son to Abraham and Sarah through the visitors. When St Paul in the second reading says, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake,” we recall the sufferings of Abraham and Sarah in their barrenness till old age, and now their good works of hospitality and service brought them the blessing of a son. Their open doors and hands to visitors brought them bountiful blessings. Some of us have created ‘barricades’ to prevent visitors from coming around, we do not want disturbance, we just want to be at ‘peace.’ We are not interested in the need or plight of our visitors and may even ask our security guards to inform them of our absence at home while we are in. On some occasions, even when we welcome visitors or strangers with words, our body language speaks otherwise. With words, we may say ‘you are welcome’, but our facial expression or the tone of our voice communicates that such a visitor is not welcome.
No doubt, it is better for some visitors not to come too close in order to prevent unforeseen havoc. However, Christ wants us to learn something called hospitality and service in the midst of this. As Abraham welcomed his visitors, Martha welcomed Christ into her house in today’s gospel pericope. She had a sister called Mary, but it was Martha, who received him into her house, while Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. Notably, her act of hospitality enabled Mary to have access to the better portion. What if she had not welcomed Jesus, would Mary have had access to sit at the feet of Christ? As regards her hospitality, St. Augustine tells us, “Martha received Christ just as pilgrims are received, but it was the servant receiving her Lord, the sick woman receiving her savior, the creature receiving her Creator. She who had to be fed with the Spirit received him who had to be fed with flesh…the Saviour had flesh in which he could indeed hunger and thirst.”
This was what Martha desired to do, unknown to her that she was the receiver. Interestingly, is her act of service; Luke recorded that “Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching while Martha was distracted in her service.” She went to Christ and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” The response of Christ does not infer that Martha was wrong in service; rather, she was distracted with much service which Christ calls our attention to as our priority. This distraction could be losing sight of Christ; it could be leaving the feet of Christ. The feet of Christ in Jewish culture portray a teacher and student or disciple atmosphere, that is, we learn at the feet of Christ. The distraction and complaints of Martha meant that she was losing sight of Christ and distancing herself from learning.
Practically, this calls us not to be distracted or grow weary on our journey with Christ. We are called to fight against complaints and grumbling attitudes, for everybody must not be like us. When we make efforts to be better Christians in our service, let us do it with a disposition of heart and we should not use ourselves as a yardstick to judge and condemn others for not meeting up with expectations. Let us not be too occupied with our service as priests and religious. Let us not be distracted with our service in our places of work or studies and fail to sit at the feet of Christ to pray or listen to him. We are not encouraged to spend time studying the scripture for knowledge’s sake or to stand as a good preacher without knowing Christ, the one we preach. Hence, as Martha welcomed Christ to her house, let us welcome him in our hearts and stay with him through our prayers, through the Scripture, and the Blessed Sacrament. May God help us to have our eyes fixed on Him and to stay at His feet all the time. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen!