By Martin Jumbam
Mother Church celebrates Sunday, July 21, 2013 as the 16th Sunday in ordinary time in the Church’s year C. In the entrance antiphon we pray: “See, I have God for my help. The Lord sustains my soul. I will sacrifice to you with willing heart, and praise your name, O Lord, for it is good. Amen.” This Sunday is generally called “hospitality Sunday” because the readings center on welcoming visitors into our homes. In the first reading, from the Book of Genesis, Abraham receives three mysterious visitors and, without hesitation, washes their feet, offers them food and prepares a place for them to rest. Unknown to him, he was actually welcoming God into his house. Because of this hospitality, God promises Abraham that he will have what he has always wanted most: an heir, a son. In the second reading, from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, Paul says that Christ suffered that the Gospel might be preached. Paul must now preach in Christ’s name, even though this will bring him persecution as it did Christ. The Gospel from Luke is another story about hospitality. It contrasts two sisters, Martha and Mary, who receive Jesus in their home. While Martha is concerned about the daily things of life, particularly food, her sister, Mary, opts instead to listen to the teachings of her Master, Jesus Christ. Brothers and sisters in the Lord, we are sometimes so busy trying to solve the problems of our daily lives that we forget to do like Mary, that is, take time off our busy schedule to listen to our Lord and Saviour. Let us pray, in the course of this holy Eucharist, for the courage not only to dedicate ourselves to service, that is to hospitality, but also to take time off to pray and listen to God talking to us in the silence of our hearts.
First Reading: Genesis 18: 1-10.
In those days: The Lord appeared to Abraham by the Oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men stood in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the earth, and said, “My Lord, if I have found favour in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I fetch a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on – since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes.” And Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds, and milk, and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate. They said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.” The Lord said, “I will surely return to you in the spring, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.”
V/ The word of the Lord.
R/ Thanks be to God.
Genesis is the first of the first five books of the Bible. It deals with the origin of the world, of mankind and of the people of Israel; the second is Exodus, which recounts the Israelites’ escape from Egypt; the third is Leviticus, which gives the lists of the laws of the priests of the tribe of Levi; the fourth is Numbers, which gives the list of those who came out of Egypt and wandered about in the desert, and the fifth is Deuteronomy, which recounts the main events at the end of the forty years the Jewish people spent wandering in the desert under Moses. These five books form a unit known collectively as the Pentateuch (from the Greek word for five books), or as the Torah (the Hebrew word for the Law).
In the passage of our meditation, we hear one of the most beautiful representations of God’s contact with man in the whole of the Old Testament, a picture which tells us of the intimacy between God and Abraham and God’s fidelity to his friend. Abraham displays the warmth of his hospitality by welcoming three strangers into his hut in the desert. Without asking to know who they are, he goes out to meet them, invites them in, washes their feet, invites them to rest while he supervises the menu, and then waits on them as they eat.
God speaks to Abraham directly in much the same way as he spoke to Adam before the latter committed sin. He assures him of a second visit in a year’s time, which shall be crowned by a son that Sarah, Abraham’s wife, who is already well on in years and thought sterile, will bear for him. Sarah, who prepares the meal for the visitors, waits inside the tent as the others eat outdoors because in her culture men and women do not eat together. From where she is, she hears the good news that God will come for a second visit and that she will have a son. So the hospitality of the old couple is rewarded as God answers their deepest desire – to have an heir.
In the Old Testament, God walks and talks and eats with his chosen ones. By depicting God in human form, the sacred writer reveals a simple truth about God – he is involved in our daily lives. He shares our struggles, our sorrows and also our joys. This reading prepares us for Jesus’ sharing of a meal with his friends in Saint Luke’s Gospel of this day. Jesus, who is true God and true man, socializes with his people. He talks with them and shares a meal with them. He intervenes when the need arises and saves his people from embarrassment, as Saint John tells us in his Gospel, when Christ performs his first miracle at Canaa by changing water into wine (Jn 2: 1-11).
Abraham’s hospitality teaches us a valuable lesson, let us be people who are open to others. Let us not walk on the other side of the road, as the priest and the Levite did, in the Gospel of last Sunday, but rather let us be the Good Samaritan who showed compassion for someone in need of assistance. When we welcome strangers into our homes and into our land, we welcome God who does not hesitate to reward us, as he rewarded Abraham and his wife Sarah with a longed-for son. Let us therefore pray for the courage to share what we have with those in greater need than us. Amen.
Second reading: Colossians 1: 24-28.
Brethren: Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church, of which I became a minister according to the divine office which was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man mature in Christ.
V/ The word of the Lord.
R/ Thanks be to God.
Paul suffers for the sake of Christ and his Church. Since Christ had suffered that the Gospel might be preached, Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, must now preach in Christ’s name, well aware that he too, like Christ, will suffer persecution because of his actions. No matter the persecution, Paul says that it is for him, and others like him, to continue to spread Christ’s Gospel, in season and out of season, whether people are listening or not.
Paul must now continue that preaching in Christ’s name – even though this will bring him torture and harassment of all sorts. Paul tells the Colossians that this was God’s divine plan for him from the beginning. God’s plan draws Paul’s admiration and joy, and drives him to work so that the Church and her members might become the embodiment of Christ, as Christ is the embodiment of his Father.
Christ perfectly accomplished his Father’s work and when he was about to die on the Cross for our salvation, he said “It is accomplished” (Jn 19:30). Jesus worked hard to communicate his message of salvation to us, and then he accomplished our redemption by his death and resurrection. Saint Paul is mindful of his Master’s teaching and so is determined to follow in his footsteps by bearing his own cross behind him, which also involves the difficult task of bringing Christ’s teaching to humanity.
What does this reading say to you and me, living in the city of Douala today? When we follow Christ we necessarily have to share in his suffering but it is such suffering that clears the way for the grace which cleanses our souls of sin. As Blessed John Paul II once said: “Suffering, more than anything else, makes present in the history of humanity the force of the Redemption” (Salvifici doloris, 27).
Christ has brought salvation to both Jew and Gentile alike. In his infinite love he lives in us through faith and grace, through prayer and the sacraments. He is present in the Church whenever we gather to pray and to sing. As Saint Jose Maria Escriva de Ballaguer, founder of the Opus Dei says, “Christ stays in his Church, its sacraments, its liturgy, its preaching – in all that it does. In a special way Christ stays with us in the daily offering of the blessed Eucharist. The presence of Christ in the host is the guarantee, the source and the culmination of his presence in the world” (Christ is passing by, 102-103).
Let us therefore pray for the courage to become bold witnesses of Christ’s teaching, first to members of our family, our Christian community and our entire city. We make our supplication through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Gospel: Luke 10: 38-42.
At that time, Jesus entered a village and a woman name Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.”
V/ The Gospel of the Lord.
R/ Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.
The first reading and the Gospel have given this Sunday the name of ‘hospitality Sunday’. In the first reading, Abraham welcomes strangers into his tent, gives them water to wash their feet while his wife, Sarah, prepares a meal for them. It turns out that those are visitors from God and they promise Abraham and his wife, Sarah, who is long past child-bearing age, that she will bear Abraham a son before the year runs out.
In the Gospel we see our Lord is on his way to Jerusalem and stops over in the village of Bethany, where his friend Lazarus, whom he raised from the dead, and his two sisters, Martha and Mary, live. This family welcomes him and his disciples and the two sisters reveal different attitudes. Martha, apparently the elder of the two, is completely taken up with household work. She has an important guest and his companions in her house and she must make sure they are well fed. That is why she is busy doing many things. Her sister Mary, however, prefers to sit at the Lord’s feet and listen to his preaching. This attitude of aloofness naturally frustrates her sister who complains: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me” (Lk 10: 40).
Instead of rebuking Mary and sending her back to the kitchen, where her sister is anxiously waiting for her, Christ commends Mary for her attentiveness, which is sure to frustrate her sister more. Only one thing matters, he tells Martha; and that one thing is attentiveness to his word. Is Christ therefore condemning hospitality and praising Mary for neglecting her guests? No, he is definitely happy that Martha is anxious to provide physical food for him and his followers but he says that there is much more to life than physical food. It is important to work for material comfort, but we should not neglect that which is spiritual.
The temptation has always been to see the two sisters as representing two rival lifestyles, with Mary exemplifying the contemplative life, the life of union with God, while Martha is seen as personifying the active life of work. However, action and contemplation are not, and should not be mutually exclusive. An active life cannot forget God and contemplation cannot only mean praying and doing no other work. We must find God in our daily work by merging the contemplative and the active aspects of our life. Our daily work is not incompatible with a rich interior life. God calls us in the midst of our daily life but he does not ask us to neglect what we do for a living simply because we are following him. As someone has so beautifully put it, “Work feeds prayer and prayer feeds work”.
The Gospel of today teaches us that we should practice two types of hospitality: we should physically feed people and take care of them, as Martha does, but also take time to listen to people, especially those who hurt and are in need of an attentive ear. Lonely souls need people who, like Mary, are ready and willing to listen to them. Hungry people need people who, like Martha, are ready and willing to provide them the physical food they need to survive.
Mary represents the true disciple of Jesus because she is intent on listening to him and learning from him. Martha represents the one who is intent on doing many things to please people but forgets the essential. Jesus is that essential thing and nothing else matters. From time to time, we need to be Mary and at other times we need to be Martha. We work and pray, we pray and work. As Christ says, “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like the sensible man who built his house on rocks” (Mt. 7:25). Let us pray for the courage to not only listen to Christ but to act on his words as well. Amen.