July 10, 2019
Our scriptures this Sunday provide stories of hospitality. In an “appearance of the Lord” to Abraham by the terebinth of Mamre, Abraham and Sarah welcome three men. As Jesus entered a village, a woman whose name was Martha and her sister Mary welcome him.
Abraham and Sarah “pull out all the stops.” Even in a culture that prided itself on hospitality—especially where hospitality in desert life could mean the difference between life and death—Abraham and Sarah seem excessive in their provisions: a whole steer for three men? But this focus on the other in hospitality returns to them in the blessing of a son to Sarah—so unexpected, so surprising, so unbelievable that she begins to laugh! But, is this not the way of God? The hospitable gesture of Abraham and Sarah comes back to them as they, in turn, are now invited into the hospitality of God, which is beyond their imagining, beyond their dreams, beyond their every hope.
And what might we say of Martha and Mary in their hospitality to Jesus? My mother, a hard- working, stay-at-home mother, who loved to cook and bake and fussed about making sure that people were satisfied, never liked this story! Poor Martha, in my mother’s mind, received a raw deal because she was just doing her job as hostess. But perhaps one way to apply the story is that we need to be contemplative in life in order to be people of real hospitality. In this sense, Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus in the position of a disciple, has taken the better part. Her deep relationship with Jesus becomes the fount of her service.
This contemplative side gave Abraham and Sarah the perspective so that they could respond generously to the three strangers, rather than neglect or ignore them. Whether or not they knew they were from God is not important; that they treated them as though they were from God is. Both Abraham and Sarah were able to see “more” than “ordinary” sight might reveal. Strangers can enter our lives in unexpected ways like they appeared to Abraham and Sarah. Pray that through a contemplative heart we will be generous in our welcome, knowing that in each occasion we might be unknowingly entertaining angels.