The Word for the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Psalm 15:2-3, 3-4, 5
Hospitality is one of the running themes through our readings this 16th week of Ordinary Time. First is a reading from Genesis, in which Abraham (no longer just Abram) has an encounter with... well, who? The text isn't clear... first calling it a visitation from the Lord, but then a visit from three men who were traveling through the area. While the likely interpretation is that Abraham didn't realize it was a visitation from the Lord until after the events of the story came to fruition, it is clear that Abraham takes his job as host to these travelers very seriously. In fact, it would not be wrong to connect this story with last week's Gospel of the Good Samaritan, with Abraham showing us a true expression of the teaching of "love thy neighbor". What makes this reading special, however, is not so much the hospitality shown by Abraham, but in the message of the travelers... that Abraham and Sarah will have a son (a prophecy that has Sarah laughing in the passages that follow this reading).
Our second reading continues our journey through Paul's letter to the Colossians (which was introduced last week). At his best, Paul's words can rouse a nation to cheer, or make a man weep with compassion. Other times, however, with his run-on sentences, and changing trains of thought, you can read a passage and find yourself more confused than before. Today's reading is a classic example of this latter.... so let's see if we can unpack it. First, it is helpful to recognize that we are still in the opening "greeting" part of the letter. Paul's greetings, and many of his salutations are elaborate prose, especially for today's email culture where "Hi" is sometimes too long of a greeting. In this particular opening, Paul is establishing his credentials. As of this writing, Paul is in prison... "suffering' on their behalf. Paul is the keeper of the Word... and he wants to make sure it is passed on for all to hear... that Christ brings fulfillment God's promises, even to the Gentiles. Paul uses is suffering for Christ as an example to be followed, and for the Colossians hearing this letter, trying to correct some misinterpretations by other illegitimate teachers.
Our Gospel from Luke picks up where we left off last week. After telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus continues his journey to the home of Mary and Martha. Martha, taking her queue from Abraham in our first reading, is busy playing host to Jesus and his followers. Mary, on the other hand, has abandoned her position as co-host in order to sit and listen to Jesus. Not only does Martha feel burdened, but Jesus, who should feel insulted by her lack of hospitality, rather enjoins her to listen, and instead chastises Martha. Does that seem right? Martha is only trying to do what is right, by custom, to care for her guests. Isn't that what God wants? Of course God wants us to be of service, but Jesus also doesn't want us loosing sight of the bigger picture. By saying that Mary has chosen the better course of action, Jesus is teaching Martha, and the rest of us, to recognize what is really important... both at the moment, and in the larger context. At this moment, listening to Jesus' teaching (in essence, listening to the Word of God), is more important, particularly because Jesus knows that once he gets to Jerusalem, his journey (and life) will be at an end.
So what's our lesson this week? Stop. Look. Listen. We can't hear the Word of God if we're too busy doing other things. We can't serve God if we're too busy to look and see what is genuinely important at the moment. Jesus doesn't want mindless followers, following the rubrics of custom with no regard for their meaning... because in the end who does this serve? Jesus isn't concerned so much with the "letter of the Law" as he is with the "Spirit of the Law". It's easy to follow rules and regulations, but as Christians we need to go beyond that and do what is right, taking into account the full context of a given situation. In today's Gospel, what seem right is wrong.
Was Abraham wrong then to put so much effort into being a good host to his visiting travelers? It might seem that way... but in the context of the situation, this is what God was looking for. With Abraham, he was looking for someone whom he could trust to follow his instructions. After all, it was Adam and Eve who broke their promise to God by picking the fruit of the one tree he asked them not to. God wanted to see if Abraham was a man of his word... someone who could listen to what God wanted and follow through... and he proved it time and again. Jesus, when spending time with Mary and Martha, also wanted someone who could listen to what God wanted. Stop. Look. Listen. And follow through... using that great gift from God, our minds, our intellect, and our reason, to figure out with what is important both in the big picture and the context of the moment. It's not always easy to figure out, which is why we need each other as Church to help guide us as the Spirit intends.