16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
It's humbling to be cared for when it's unexpected! I'm in the midst of Directing Summer Schools, a real mixed blessing because with the joy and energy of connecting and looking after students and staff comes the immense responsibility of pastoral care, and that is draining. More so in this present age because people seem to want 'instant' solutions! So when one of last week's participants came up to me and said, 'when was the last time anybody asked you if you were alright, how your day was going?' I had to admit, rather shamefacedly that it was a long way back, so in chatting we agreed that to take my (our) time out was crucial to well being, as well as affirming people enhances their experience.
That exchange had a profound effect on me, because it is true, for as pastor, teacher, whatever, like so many in the caring professions, I'm reaching out (or as some people say, I am being available). There is a perception that we don't need the same input as those we care for, but that's not quite true! I seem to recall the great commandment is threefold and part of it is learning to love oneself as we do our neighbour. The only one I know who does not need our support is God, and yet God also desires our love!
So the Genesis story of the three visitors to Abraham and Sarah, receiving hospitality from them under the Terebinth tree, should be for us a huge symbol of the hospitality we need to show each other, because as the letter to the Hebrews puts it; 'Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares'. (Heb 13:2) In their case the Christian tradition understands these visitors not only as angels, messengers, but the presence of the triune God amongst us1 Many of you may be familiar with one of the great icons of the Byzantine tradition, Andre Rublev's Trinity, three angels sitting around a table, indistinguishable except by colours and position, but representing for him the great mystery of God who not only comes amongst us, but gives us the greatest earthly hospitality in sharing the very food of heaven, Christ our true God, in the Eucharist and begs us to show hospitality to others.
However linking this Sundays gospel story of Martha and Mary with the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah, I can make a very personal connection, I've long thought we read it wrongly, Mary hasn't chosen the better part at all, both sisters have, for both are friends with Jesus, that better part is a default position to get Martha to rest! Mary has simply turned her whole attention towards Jesus, Martha is busy trying to make him welcome, and it isn't a rebuke, more the concern of Jesus that she not be overwhelmed with the demands of hospitality.
Try and read that passage in a gentle, kind voice, it does shape the experience differently. So these words "you are anxious and worried about many things.
There is need of only one thing' are no rebuke; they are calling us to sit down with each other and God, to waste that time with each other. It's a call to share, enjoy, return to a respectful manner of friendship, giving each other space but making each other feel valued, need, wanted, as we are with God!
Abraham and Sarah at Mamre
They practice hospitality; their hearts
Have opened like a secret source, free flowing
Only as they take another's part.
Stopped in themselves, and in their own unknowing,
But unlocked by these strangers in their need,
They breathe again, and courtesy, set free,
Begets the unexpected; generosity
Begetting generation, as the seed
Of promise springs and laughs in Sarah's womb.
Made whole by their own hospitality,
And like the rooted oak whose shade makes room
For this refreshing genesis at Mamre,
One couple, bringing comfort to their guests,
Becomes our wellspring in the wilderness.
From The Little Prince
"One only understands the things that one tames," said the fox. "Men have
no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the
shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so
men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me. . ."
- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
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