JULY 17TH, 2016: SIXTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
The LORD appeared to Abraham by the terebinth of Mamre,
as he sat in the entrance of his tent,
while the day was growing hot.
Looking up, Abraham saw three men standing nearby.
When he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them;
and bowing to the ground, he said:
“Sir, if I may ask you this favor,
please do not go on past your servant.
Let some water be brought, that you may bathe your feet,
and then rest yourselves under the tree.
Now that you have come this close to your servant,
let me bring you a little food, that you may refresh yourselves;
and afterward you may go on your way.”
The men replied, “Very well, do as you have said.”
Abraham hastened into the tent and told Sarah,
“Quick, three measures of fine flour! Knead it and make rolls.”
He ran to the herd, picked out a tender, choice steer,
and gave it to a servant, who quickly prepared it.
Then Abraham got some curds and milk,
as well as the steer that had been prepared,
and set these before the three men;
and he waited on them under the tree while they ate.
They asked Abraham, “Where is your wife Sarah?”
He replied, “There in the tent.”
One of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year,
and Sarah will then have a son.”
Brothers and sisters:
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake,
and in my flesh I am filling up
what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ
on behalf of his body, which is the church,
of which I am a minister
in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me
to bring to completion for you the word of God,
the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past.
But now it has been manifested to his holy ones,
to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory
of this mystery among the Gentiles;
it is Christ in you, the hope for glory.
It is he whom we proclaim,
admonishing everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.
Jesus entered a village
where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him.
She had a sister named Mary
who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.
Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said,
“Lord, do you not care
that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?
Tell her to help me.”
The Lord said to her in reply,
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.
There is need of only one thing.
Mary has chosen the better part
and it will not be taken from her.”
After I saw the movie High Noon at the age of 12, I found myself for a least a day and a half trying to walk like Gary Cooper. I probably wasn’t alone. Movie heroes normally engender imitation. That’s why the most popular motion picture hero of all time is To Kill a Mockingbird’s Atticus Finch. Almost everyone would like to imitate this fictitious hero’s unprejudiced personality.
The imitation of heroes didn’t start with movies. Our sacred authors utilized this concept thousands of years ago. It’s behind today and next week’s Genesis readings. The writer depicts Abraham and Sarah as ideal Jews, in both passages demonstrating characteristics which good Israelites are or should be noted for.
Today’s characteristic is hospitality.
Though the three strangers come at a most inappropriate time – siesta – Abraham doesn’t wait for them to ask for hospitality, he rushes over and begs them to “let” him take care of them. Then, with Sarah’s help, he “picks out a tender, choice steer” and prepares it for them with all the side dishes. (By the way, no Scripture scholar believes these three are the Trinity. They’re simply Yahweh in human form, a unique entity that no one human being can represent.)
In a world in which there were no hotels or restaurants as we know them today, travelers depended on people’s hospitality for survival. Our biblical writer reasons that if Israelites are Yahweh’s Chosen People, then Israelites must mirror Yahweh’s concern and care for all people. She’s proud to say the first two Jews mirror that care and concern.
The sacred author even tells us about the reward Abraham and Sarah receive for their generous hospitality. “One of (the strangers) said, ‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a son.’” Sarah’s barrenness is over. Yahweh will demonstrate the same generosity with this couple as they demonstrated for the three travelers.
This isn’t the only time in Scripture that hospitality is given an unexpected reward. Our gospel pericope provides us with another classic example.
We can never forget that Luke revolves much of his gospel around a journey Jesus and his disciples take from Galilee to Jerusalem. They, like the three Genesis visitors, are also travelers, frequently dependent on people’s hospitality. In today’s passage, the sisters Martha and Mary offer Jesus a meal as he’s passing through their village. He not only accepts, he spends the time while the food’s being prepared in teaching his good news.
Then, when Martha complains that her sister is listening to his teaching instead of helping with the cooking, he rewards them for their hospitality by gifting them and all women with something which, in their culture, only men were expected to possess: the ability to engage in the “better part.” They, like men, could be full disciples, fully listening to and carrying out Jesus’ teaching. For Luke, no longer were there “women and men’s activities.” This evangelist, more than the other three could be labeled a radical feminist.
One really doesn’t know what to expect when one offers hospitality to others. And, for the author of Colossians, that offering is ongoing. It never stops. “Filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, the church” is always part of every Christian’s ministry.
Just as Abraham, Sarah, Martha and Mary discovered a totally new direction in their lives when they gave themselves to others, so we, following their example have no idea what to expect when we imitate their example. No wonder our ancestors in the faith found life so exciting.
Maybe we don’t have the right heroes if we’re living boring lives today.