Class: 
Cycle C: Sixteenth Sunday of the Liturgical Year

 

HOSPITALITY

 

The ability to be hospitable is one of the most touching signs that one is truly a disciple of Christ. It is a demanding attitude especially when we experience our limitations, weaknesses and failures. When we are hospitable, it is our whole life which is at stake.

 

  • A matter of hospitality

 

You might have noticed that there is a close connection between the First Reading of today and the Gospel narrative. Both of them speak of hospitality. In the First Reading, we heard about three visitors who were welcomed by Abraham. Actually, it was the triune God coming to visit him. In the Gospel narrative, we hear about a visit that Jesus paid to his friends Mary and Martha in Bethany. Thus hospitality has always been a very important custom for the people of Palestine, even today.

 

I remember, when I went to visit the Holy Land some years ago, I went to Jericho with another priest, friend of mine. We were walking on the main street of modern Jericho, trying to imagine what it must have been like in the time of Christ. It was very hot, that day. On the way, we saw an old man returning home from the market with two heavy bags of vegetables. We offered to help him. When we reached his house, he invited us inside. We could not understand his language, neither could he understand ours.

 

Realizing that we felt thirsty, he gave us glasses of fresh water to drink along with some tasty fruits. We felt delighted. When we left his house, he bowed low before us, lifting his hands to his forehead, his mouth and his heart. He wanted to say, as we came to know later: “You will always remain in my thoughts, my conversations and my heart.” That is one of the most moving experiences I had during my visit to the Holy Land. This unknown man had welcomed us as Abraham had done with the tree men who came to visit him in the desert and as Mary and Martha did with Jesus.

 

  • Communion in friendship

 

  1. Saint John wrote at the beginning of his Gospel: “The Word was made flesh, he lived among us.” (Jn 1: 14). The original text says: “He came to pitch his tent among us,” an expression which evokes the long tradition of the nomads in the Bible, starting with Abraham. The Word of God came to dwell among us. He even shared our meals, as he did in the houses of Peter, Simon the Pharisee, Matthew, Zacchaeus, Martha and Mary, and many others. Mary, Martha and Lazarus were Jesus’ friends. He had come to pay them a friendly visit.

 

We all know what it means to “share a meal” with others. Meals are moments of relaxation, friendship and intimacy. The great philosopher Aristotle used to say: “We are not friends as long as we have not eaten salt together.” That is precisely what Jesus came to do. He came to eat salt with us or to share his friendship with us.

The meals we take with others are not meant only to strengthen our bodies. They are meant above all to strengthen the bonds of unity among us. When we invite friends to our tables, we don’t share only food with them, but also feelings, convictions, plans, etc. During a common meal, we are all united to celebrate a birthday or a significant event in our lives. That is true especially of wedding banquets. The meals that Jesus took with his friends were occasions for him to share his most intimate thoughts with them. Remember the words he spoke at the Last Supper. That is also what we do during our Eucharistic meals. We begin by listening to the Word of God before receiving the body and the blood of Christ.

 

You might have noticed that the way Mary extended hospitality to Jesus was very different from that of her sister Martha. It was a reflection of their different temperaments.

 

  • Martha was the housemistress. She knew that a meal offered to an important person required a good deal of preparation. Jesus himself would take care of that detail when he sends two of his disciples “to prepare the Passover meal,” the day before he died. It is evident that when we welcome a person we love or admire, we try to welcome him/her well by preparing a very good meal.

 

  • Mary, on her part, responded very differently to the visit of Jesus. When Jesus arrived, she was concerned mainly about him, not so much about the meal. She felt the need of remaining in his company and listening to him. Perhaps did she remember, at that moment, the first words of the Jewish prayer: “Hear, O Israel. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength.” She lived by these words, because she was all ears.

 

Then Martha intervened. What she said was a kind of reproach: “Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do the serving all by myself? Please, tell her to help me.” The answer that Jesus gave her may surprise us. “Martha, Martha,” he said, “you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part. It is not to be taken from her.” Perhaps should we receive this answer the same way we do with other replies from Jesus which we cannot understand, but can enlighten us just the same.

 

  1. Remember the other encounter that Jesus had with a woman, near Jacob’s well. When the disciples returned from the town where they had gone to purchase food, Jesus remained silent for a while. The disciples said to him: “Eat, Rabbi.” But Jesus answered: “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”

 

  1. An incident reported in the Acts of the Apostles and which took place a few years after Pentecost in the early Church may help us understand Jesus’ reply. At that time, the Church in Jerusalem had instituted an official Service to the Poor. Common meals were served to them as an expression of Christian charity. It was the first “Caritas” organization, so to say. But as nothing is perfect on earth, even in the early Church, some people began to grumble because certain widows originally from abroad were being neglected. The problem was mentioned to the apostles who answered: “It would not be right for us to neglect the Word of God so as to give out food” (Acts 6: 2). And they instituted the order of the deacons to take care of this service.

 

  • It is to say that there are two complementary services (or ministries) in the Church: the ministry of the Word and the social ministry. Priests are “specialized,” so to say, in the ministry of the Word.

 

  • There is no question of minimizing social service. Jesus himself praised that ministry when he said: “I was hungry and you gave me to eat...”

 

As Christians, we should not oppose these two ministries. We have to be ready to listen to the Word of God and also to the plights of the poor. That is not always easy to do. Listen to the following testimony.

“Christ came into my room and stood there and I was bored to death. I had work to do. I wouldn’t have minded if he’d been crippled or something – I do well with cripples – but he just stood there with that damned guitar. I didn’t ask him to sit down. He’d have stayed all day. Let’s be honest. You can be crucified just so often. Then you’ve had it. I mean you’re useless; no good to God, let alone to anybody else. So, I said to him after a while, ‘Well, what’s up? What do you want?’ And he laughed, stupid, said he was just passing by and thought he’d say hello. ‘Great,’ I said, ‘Hello’. So, he left. And I was so damned mad I couldn’t even listen to the radio. I went and got some coffee. The trouble with Christ is he always comes at the wrong time.”(John L’Heureux, S.J.)

 

  • Christian hospitality

We could summarize the Gospel message of today in these words: two arms are needed to extend hospitality; one arm is not enough. In their respective tasks, Martha and Mary complement each other. It is in a complementary way that both of them together extend a warm welcome to Jesus. One pays attention to the guest and the other is concerned about material needs. Jesus reveals that both concerns are required to welcome people, but one of them has greater value. Now let us see the implications of this teaching in our Christian lives.

 

Service is needed, but not at the expense of prayer

 

On a few occasions in my pastoral ministry, I had to encourage the head of the family who felt depressed, because his wife and children were not grateful for all that he had done for them. He used to work day and night, so to say, in order to earn more and purchase what he felt was needed for the welfare of his family.

There is no doubt that all the work he did was a tangible sign of his love for his family. He literally “killed himself” for his dear ones. Actually, his main concern was to provide them with material things. On the other hand, he was absent from the house most of the time. His wife and children could seldom talk to him. He was a bit like a person on one’s arm to welcome his family.

Don’t think that this is just an isolated case. The consumerist society in which we live leads us to focus our attention on material things and to neglect the people whom we want to help. We are very much like Martha who thought that her sister Mary was wasting her time listening to Jesus. We easily forget that we need two arms to love and to serve others.

 

There was once a man who was trying to read the evening newspaper after he had come home from a rough day at the office. As he attempted to read the paper, he was constantly being interrupted by his children. One child came and asked for money for an ice cream cone, and his father gently reached into his pocket and gave him the necessary coin. Another child arrived in tears. Her leg was hurt and she wanted her daddy to kiss the hurt away. An older son came with an algebra problem, and they eventually arrived at the right answer. Finally, the last and youngest of them all burst into the room looking for good old dad. The father said cynically: “What do you want?” The little youngster said: “Oh, daddy, I don’t want anything. I just want to sit in your lap.”   (Eric Ritz).

 

In other words, we have to combine the busy life of Martha with the delicate attention of Mary. Our love should be expressed in gestures of service as well as with signs of affection and moments of prayer.

More and more Christians today have become aware that, to be true disciples of Jesus, they must commit themselves at the service of others. Sentiments are not enough. Concrete action is needed. And we see this ideal being carried out in so many ways in our parish by the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, the Legion of Mary, the Teachers’ Teams, etc. However, there are also instances when people forget about this demand of love.

One day, a Hindu told  Fr. Lederle, S.J. in Pune:  “I do not consider myself to be religious-minded, because I do not feel any urge to help the poor and low caste people who live near my house.”

Listening to the Lord

 

The other arm is seen in action in so many ways: the time you spent in prayer, the time you spend marvelling at creation, the time you spend in reading the Word of God, the time you spend in thanking the Lord for the graces he gives you, etc.

Unfortunately, some of us may be Christians on one’s arm: they are happy only with what they can “do” for others. Some are happy only with the time they spend in prayer and devotions. To be true followers of Christ is to commit ourselves at the service of others, while taking time also to be with him in solitude and prayer.

“One day, a group of people from a particular parish came to see me, because they were in despair. A thief had broken into their church at night and – supreme sacrilege! – had smashed the door of the tabernacle to steal the ciborium. With tears in their eyes these people told me how they had found the consecrated hosts scattered in the mud around the church. So, they asked me to come and offer Mass in reparation for this sacrilege. I agreed to go, of course, but during my homily I told them: ‘My dear brothers and sisters, how blind we are! We were shocked to find the consecrated hosts in the mud. But in this parish Christ is found in the mud every day. He is there in the slums and what do we do about it?’”    (Dom Helder Camara)

Author: 
Hervé Morissette, csc