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16th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Last week’s readings reminded us of the importance of loving our neighbor.  Out of this love of neighbor comes our long standing tradition of hospitality, which we see as a thread in this week’s readings:


Genesis 18:1-10a
Psalm 15:2-3, 3-4, 5
Colossians 1:24-28
Luke 10:38-42

Our first reading comes from the book of Genesis.  Here we meet up with Abraham (no longer Abram) as he has an encounter with the Lord.  Only this is no ordinary encounter.  Three men who have been traveling through the area have come to Abraham’s camp, and immediately Abraham insists that they stay, rest, and have some food.  This might sound unusual to us, but we need to remember that Abraham is living in a desolate area.  Travelers are not common, and when they are encountered, it is the long standing custom to be hospitable.  In fact, it wouldn’t be incorrect to connect this passage from our readings from last week about showing love to our neighbor.  Abraham’s hospitality aside, what is really important is what these travelers have to say… that his wife Sarah will give him a son.  No some may argue that Abraham recognized these  travelers right away as the presence of the Lord, while others may argue that Abraham didn’t realize it until their prophecy came to fruition.  Regardless on when Abraham made this connection, this passage teaches us that no matter who it is, a certain hospitality is owed, to our neighbor, and to the Lord.  That message is reinforced by our Psalm when we sing, “He who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.”

This custom of hospitality is also evident in our Gospel from Luke.  Continuing from where we left off last week, Jesus has traveled to the home of Mary and Martha.  Martha, as is customary, is playing host to Jesus and the other disciples… but Mary, rather than helping her sister, has taken a seat next to Jesus to listen.  Mind you, this is highly unusual thing given that he social norms of the time, where women were expected to play host and not sit and listen like a disciple.  Martha is understandably upset, and asks Jesus to tell Mary to help serve, but Jesus doesn’t believe this is right.  Instead Jesus tells Martha that Mary has chosen the better course of action.  How so?  Sometimes as we go about doing what we think is right (in this case, playing host) we lose sight of the bigger picture… of what is more important at that time.  Jesus knows that his time is short, so better for them to stop and spend time with him than worry about more trivial matters.  It’s more than just a matter of perspective… it’s a matter of what’s more important.

Our second reading continues our study of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, picking up where we left off in his opening salutation.  There are times when Paul’s prose can rouse a community to cheer, or make a man weep with compassion.  There are other times, however, with his long, run-on sentences and meandering trains of thought, where it can be difficult to understand what he is telling us.  This week’s passage falls into this latter category, and requires us to spend a little extra time unpacking it.  Paul says he is rejoicing in his sufferings… a reference to the fact that he is in prison, and his suffering, like that of Christ, is for their sake.  Paul considers himself to be a “keeper of the word,” and he wants to make sure the Colossian community understands that the Gentiles are entitled to God’s glory, regardless of what some other false teachers may have told them.  That everyone is perfect in Christ.

Final thoughts:

When we think of the “Word of God” we tend to think of our scripture readings at Mass, or we might think of the Bible itself.  But are these the only vehicles to hear the voice of God?  Far from it.  God speaks to us in many ways, but we’re often too busy to hear it.  Or sometimes we hear it, but don’t recognize it as the voice of God right away.  We need to take the time to stop, look, and listen for God’s voice. 

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, as we see with Mary and Martha.  Sometimes what we think is right might be wrong at that moment.  It’s the difference between following the “letter of the Law” as opposed to the “spirit of the Law.”  Martha thought she was right by following what is customary, but Jesus teaches us that sometimes that can lead us astray.  Our lives are not static.  Situations change all the time and we need to be responsive to those situations.  As Christians we recognize that life is not always “black and white,” so Jesus helps us stop, look, and listen for God’s voice as a guide to help us navigate the gray areas and do what is right.  Stop.  Look.  Listen.  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.

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