Sometimes when reading the Scriptures, we are confronted with a number of questions that need to be answered. “What 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?”
Today, we see examples of age-old values: service, stewardship, contemplation - all of which are key components of "hospitality." Abraham drops everything and welcomes three strangers into his 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.
Hospitality - making others feel welcomed and at home - is a gift freely given. But it is much more than simply being "hospitable." Hospitality is being present to the moment, being present to one another in ways that go beyond mere service.
Most times, the "guests" that wander into and out of our lives are not the usual people we find on our guest lists. They may not be those of equal social and economic ranking to our own. 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 community, 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.
It has never been easy being a Christian in our world. It is an act of faith and trust in the Spirit to pay attention to what we hear and see, and then reflect on its application to our lives. We must make daily choices that set us against the grain of our contemporaries.
The answers to our original questions can sometimes cause friction and conflict – and they are painful.
Listening and service go hand in hand, and we need to make the time to communicate with each other – listening, recognizing, and appreciating one another. Like Abraham and Sarah, we are called to act graciously towards the many strangers that may cross our paths. And as we discover in the Gospel, we are a Mary/Martha community. Balanced alongside the constant busy-ness of Martha is Mary’s need for being still and listening.
Our challenge is to see how these integral parts of the Christian life complement each other.