16th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Hospitality

In this week's readings, we see examples of age-old values: service, stewardship and contemplation. Abraham drops everything and welcomes three strangers into home, while his wife Sarah is unexpectedly forced to prepare an elaborate meal for them. Mary of Bethany sits at the feet of the Lord, clinging to His every word. Her sister Martha occupies her time with the business "playing the perfect hostess" - with a little resentment thrown in for good measure.

maryandmarthaWhat does this have to do with us today? What does this have to do with our faith? What does this have to do with family or parish life?  More importantly, what does this have to do with the larger issue of our global responsibility of welcoming one another?

The Scriptures speak to us of "hospitality." The people of Israel were very familiar with the concept of hospitality. Throughout their entire troubled history, they never lost sight of the fact the Yahweh was their host - always listening to their prayers, constantly providing for their every need. Even when they reached the "Promised Land" they saw themselves as guests in the homeland that Yahweh had provided them.

The first followers of Jesus and the early Christians would have had that same ancient understanding of hospitality and welcome. There were many gifts among the men and women in the early church, some like Mary's were quiet disciples attentive to the words of Christ; others were very active. In their own ways, both Martha and Mary welcome Christ, each has apparently heard his teachings and shown love to God and service to neighbor.

Hospitality - making others feel welcomed and at home - is actually a gift that originates in God and which He offers to us. But the welcoming is a two-way street. We discover that hospitality is much more than being "hospitable." Hospitality is being present to the moment, being present to one another in ways that go beyond mere servitude.

We are the ones who must welcome God into our lives. We are the ones who must welcome each other. Most times, the "guests" that wander into our lives are not always the usual people we find on guest lists, those of equal social and economic ranking to our own.

But we are also the ones who must allow ourselves to be welcomed. True faith is to be like both Mary and Martha: to be welcoming and to be welcomed.

Abraham showed his hospitality by enthusiastically welcoming strangers, and by doing so, he welcomed the Lord himself. Mary's is an example of a deep hospitality. She gave what mattered most. She recognized Jesus as a person. She sat with him, opened her heart to him and she listened to him.

We can learn a lesson from Abraham, Sarah, Mary and Martha. There are times when we need to be busy - to be engrossed in our duties. Both in the family and in our parish, we can let our activities become the driving force in our lives. We can become so wrapped up in our duties that we lose sight of the reason we are ministering in the first place.

But we can never allow ourselves to become too busy for the people in our lives. We need to strike a balance between the time we busy ourselves with work and the time we give to others. Listening and service go hand in hand, and we need to spend a little time communicating with each other: listening and recognizing and appreciating one another. It is only then that we will grow in the realization of God's presence in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

All Christians are called to be listeners of the Word - something we do each time we gather at Liturgy and listen to the proclamation of the Word. We are also called to service of our neighbor, which we do as we go forth from the Table of the Lord to return to our busy lives. In our dealings with one another, we must touch the most fundamental needs of our humanity, and help each other to see how uniquely the gift of Jesus and His Gospel fulfill those needs.

That is true hospitality.