Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year C

Luis A. Vera, O.S.A.
Church of Saint Nicholas of Tolentine
Bronx, New York

Gn 18: 1-10a
Ps 15: 2-3, 3-4, 5
Col 1: 24-28
Lk 10: 38-42

Tony Gittins, who is a professor at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and a missionary, used to say that “hospitality should be given according to the receiver, not according to the person who offers it!” Very often we try to be so hospitable when there are guests visiting us, that we become quite the opposite: we become fastidious and inhospitable! “Please, have something to eat!” “Do not worry, thank you! I just had supper.” “… But you must have something to eat!” “Thank you very much, maybe a little latter…” “But you must!” … Once again, hospitality must be given according to the receiver.

It seems to me that the hospitality that we offer others should mirror God’s hospitality to us. God receives us “wherever we are” in our lives! In our reading from the Old Testament, Abraham receives these three visitors with kindness and shows great hospitality to them. He ran to them to greet them, offered water for their feet and rest under a tree, asked them to stay and offered them some food. And they agreed, “Very well, do as you have said” and then Abraham waited on them.

After that, a great promise is made: “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah (your wife) will then have a son.” In welcoming these three visitors, in receiving these three strangers, Abraham and Sarah received a blessing! God came to visit them in these strangers! God visits us in so many different ways! God shows power and mercy and loving tenderness in ways we do not expect! …But we must be attentive to the many ways God speaks to us.

In the Gospel today, Martha is the one who welcomes Jesus and the one who serves him. A rule was broken here! Jesus goes to eat at the house of two women; we don’t read anything about Lazarus in today’s passage. Then we see that Mary sits at the feet of Jesus: another rule is broken! When Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, she doesn’t do that as a servant. She sits there in a different way. At the feet of a teacher or a Rabbi, a disciple sat. Mary was sitting in the place where a male disciple would have been. While Martha is getting ready to feed Jesus, Mary is being fed by Jesus.

This parable follows the story of the Good Samaritan where Jesus asks us to do what the Samaritan did. Today we look at the role of being and listening. We are not to choose one over the other. Both are important. All of us are called to be disciples in both ways. These two sisters represent not only two realities in our Church but also two realities within ourselves and both are needed in our Church and in our own lives.

It seems to me that the readings this week are telling us much more than the importance of hospitality or the struggle between action and contemplation. This is probably what most people would hear in Church today. On the other hand, I believe that the readings are calling us not only to be hospitable or to serve others or to listen carefully, but the readings are inviting us to break the barriers we have created between peoples in our society. As Jesus, we must break those barriers that keep us apart from those who want to serve and sit at the Table and from those who are eager to listen and experience mercy and forgiveness and dignity. We are invited to be hospitable according to those who receive that gift. We are called not only to be the ones offering hospitality but we are reminded that we also need to know how to be guests and receive from others what they have graciously prepared no matter how simple. In the same way, in the words of Tony Gittins, we are called to be not only givers but also beggars; not only to open our hands down in giving to others but to be humble enough to open our hands up to receive the love and the mercy of those we have offended and hurt!

That’s how we come to the Table of the Lord: ready to serve those in need, those who come hungry and thirsty, but we also come ready to be served from this great Banquet. We come together with eyes of faith and hope like Abraham and Sarah, and we come like Martha and Mary receiving the Lord in our hearts and in our lives. As we do so, we are sent to be just and to live in the presence of the Lord, to be Christ to one another, especially to those we have pushed to the margins or feel rejected from this Table. We are invited to be Eucharist for one another…Would we accept this invitation?