Father Hanly’s homily for 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, is about hospitality.
Readings for Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
- First Reading: Genesis 18:1-10
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 15:2-3, 3-4, 5
- Second Reading: Colossians 1:24-28
- Gospel: Luke 10:38-42
Today’s readings from Holy Scripture include a Communion Antiphon from today’s Mass that inspired a famous painting that may be familiar to us all.
It is the painting of the risen Jesus standing before a door, in one hand he is holding a lamp, and the other is poised to knock on the closed door. Underneath is the quotation from the Book of Revelations:
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock.
If anyone hears my voice and opens the door,
I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.”
Today we are given not one but two charming stories about hospitality.
As you already know hospitality in the Eastern churches is seen as the warm and open-hearted welcome to passing travellers, strangers, many of whom are poor and needy, and who are still received with gracious kindness and unaffected love as if they were long lost members of the family.
The first hospitality story is from the Book of Genesis about Abraham, the Father of our Faith, known to all as “the friend of God,” and how one day while standing outside his tent, he saw three strangers, travellers from afar, passing by.
Abraham, as the story goes, ran after them to welcome them, leading them back to his tent to wash the dust from their feet and rest awhile before continuing their long and arduous journey.
Abraham ran to his wife in the kitchen and told her to prepare fresh bread and curds and milk quickly, and, oh yes, prepare a fatted calf, along with cups of good red wine to serve their honored guests.
For people in the Near East, then and now, such gracious hospitality to strangers was considered to be a common courtesy, almost a religious ritual to welcome strangers from faraway places and make them feel at home.
And why not? You never know when the strangers you serve might be messengers sent by God, or even God Himself.
Then after the meal, as the three guests were leaving, one of them turned back and asked Abraham:
“Where is your wife Sarah?”
He replied, “There in the tent.”
The mysterious man then said to Abraham:
will surely return to you about this time next year,
and Sarah will then have a son.”
When Sarah heard this inside the tent she laughed out loud, for she was a woman well on in years. How could she give birth to a son?
However, it came to pass that she did conceive and give birth to a son, just as the stranger had promised, and of course Abraham and Sarah called the child Isaac, which means in Hebrew “Laughter.”
How joyful they were and grateful to God. And among those who heard the good news, said to each other about the three mysterious visitors: “Abraham unbeknown to himself has entertained angels.”
The second hospitality story is, of course, recorded in today’s Gospel.
Here the hosts are the two sisters, Martha and Mary, and the honored guest of this little family is, of course, Jesus.
St Luke does not mention the crowd of guests accompanying Jesus, including his apostles and disciples. But it does explain why Martha was annoyed with her sister Mary, who continued to sit at the Lord’s feet listening to Jesus and making no effort to give a helping hand.
Martha appeals to Jesus, saying:
“Lord, do you not care
that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?
Tell her to help me.”
And Jesus answers her:
“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.”
A puzzling response. And what is “the only one thing necessary?” Jesus does not say.
But we do know from Martha’s attitude that she’s frustrated and annoyed with her sister. Even more so because of the crowds of people that have come with Jesus, not to mention his disciples.
And Martha is right: the place for the host is to serve the guests.
But Mary is also right, for when the guest is Jesus Himself, the disciple must serve the Lord.
What does Jesus mean by “there is only one thing necessary and Mary has chosen it?”
It is for us to answer.
Of course, the one and only thing necessary in the heart and lives of the disciple is found in the words of Jesus Himself, namely, “You must love the Lord your God with your whole heart, your whole soul, your whole being; and you must love one another other as I have loved you.”
The heart of hospitality is love shared, uniting us with God, with Jesus with each other.
This is why Jesus has come among us: to teach us how to love as he loves, and to care as he cares, and, then, one with his love and service, how we can save the world.