Sunday Reflection with Fr Terry Tastard - 18 July 2010

Vermeer's Christ in the home of Martha and Mary

Vermeer's Christ in the home of Martha and Mary

Hospitality is one of the great gifts of humankind. To be able to welcome others into our homes, to share in conviviality - these things speak volumes about what it means to be human. In the ancient world, hospitality was especially important. Your family and your clan owed you nurture and protection. Beyond that, you were at the mercy of others, and to venture beyond your social network meant a great deal of trust - and vulnerability.  Today, in our world of vast impersonal cities, hospitality  is important again. Hospitality means to create community, places of welcome. Everybody is capable of hospitality, but perhaps people of faith have more opportunities for hospitality that others, because in our communities we bring together people of truly varied backgrounds.

In the first reading today (Genesis 18.1-10) and in our gospel (Luke 10.38-42)  we find ourselves brought face to face with the importance of hospitality. First we hear how Abraham received visitors with great grace and kindness. They arrive 'during the hottest part of the day', a reminder of the scorching Middle East sun and of how important it is to be welcomed and given shelter from the sun. water and refreshment. The story implies that because Abraham has been so spontaneously generous, God will be generous to him and give him the heir for which he has longed.
In the gospel we catch a privileged moment. Jesus is probably at Bethany, and a circle of desciples are around him listening to his teaching. The detail that Mary of Bethany 'sat down at the Lord's feet'  is significant, because it implies that she was taking her place among the disciples listening to his teaching. Someone, however, has to do the housework, someone has to prepare the food that is part of the hospitality, and Martha complains that Mary is leaving her to toil in  her own. Let's be honest: aren't your sympathies with Martha? Mine always are.  Yet the point that Jesus makes is one that challenges us.

All hospitality begins by being truly present to the one w welcome. I think that nearly all of us will at some time or another have had the experience of being offered food by someone who is so resentful or so distracted that we are made to feel guilty.  And in that circumstance the hospitality is no hospitality at all.  Both Martha and Mary have have made Jesus welcome, Martha by providing food, Mary by listening to him, but Martha in her stress has tried a bit of emotional manipulation to get Mary to help her.  This is a situation all of us have been caught up in at one time or another. Jesus gently deflects Martha's attempt to use guilt or shame. But he goes further. In his reply he says that Mary has chosen the better part, the path, in fact, of becoming one of his disciples.  Both practical care and listening have their place in hospitality. But what we offer will be more generous if it comes from a converted heart.  Being open to others and making them welcome is always a delicate balance.  If we are disciples, if we are like Mary, we sit at the feet of Christ., then we can ask the grace of God to guide us so that we are truly able  to make others more welcome, with the delicate balance of generosity and prudence, trust and discernment.

Fr Terry is Parish Priest at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Brook Green, west London.   His new book:  Ronald Knox and English Catholicism is published by Gracewing at £12.99 and is available on Amazon, on ICN's front page. To read Sr Gemma Simmonds' review on ICN see:

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