The theme of hospitality is so palpable in our readings this Sunday and it deepens this theme from last Sunday’s Scriptures.
In the reading from Genesis, Abraham gives an incredibly generous welcome to three men, strangers who come along in the heat of the day. Abraham extends exquisite hospitality — the greeting, an offer of water to wash their feet, a place to rest and a meal! All of this took great time, attention and effort. Certainly, to have a steer killed and prepared and to have Sarah make rolls, this isn’t like putting something in the microwave! Abraham didn’t even presume to eat with his guests; he allowed them privacy. He showed the best of Near Eastern hospitality which was considered an obligation, since travel was difficult and dangerous. According to the rules of custom, the guest was expected to reciprocate. The three men, who are revealed later as angels, respond by delivering the message that Sarah will have Abraham’s child, as the LORD had promised. The couple received the deepest desire of their hearts — a son. 

The story tells us a great deal about hospitality. First, it is extended to any stranger or kin. The men were in need of food, water and shelter from the heat of the day. Abraham and Sarah went beyond expectation to meet their needs. There are so many “strangers” in our world today. They are those without homes or decent places to stay. They are the asylum seekers at our border. They are those in our parishes and families who have been estranged through poor choices or negligence or through tough circumstances. What are we to do in these situations? We can’t do everything — but we can do something. The first step is to see the person, then to see their need. One of the reasons for ancient hospitality was to transform the potential threat of a stranger into a prospective ally. Who are the people or groups we see as “threats?” How can a change of our attitude bring about transformation in us and them?

In the Gospel, Jesus accepts the hospitality of Martha and her sister, Mary. In that culture, it was unusual for women to extend the invitation for hospitality, that was left to the male head of the house. But Jesus is never bound by social convention. He is at home with his friends!

Each woman offers welcome in a different way. Martha does the practical tasks of cooking and serving. Mary extends presence, listening, attention. Both of these modes of cordiality are so important in giving a guest comfort and welcome. Have you had the experience of visiting a home where there was food and drink, but no conversation to make you feel that you were wanted? Conversely, maybe you were invited at the lunch or dinner hour and no food was forthcoming. Both these scenarios are uncomfortable.

During this visit, Martha takes exception to Mary’s type of hospitality. But Jesus does take Mary’s part. It seems that he favors loving attention and listening over food! The story has many pearls of wisdom about being a welcoming presence. Summer is a time for hospitality. There are many opportunities to host parties or barbecues. Whether you are a host or a guest — is attention as important as the burgers? Can you put your phone down and engage with others, learning more about them and showing interest in their lives?

The story also reminds us that Jesus deserves our attention. When Jesus says to Martha, “Mary has chosen the better part” can we hear that as an invitation to spend time with him, to listen to him in the Scriptures, in the Eucharist and in creation? Jesus is not setting up a dichotomy between prayer and service; he is reminding us that prayer is just as important as the service. Our relationship with Jesus is nurtured and deepened by presence and prayer. This relationship is made visible by working together and serving the community. Our Christian lives depend on both action and contemplation!