Hospitality a tap root in our faith and family
16th Sunday of Ordinary Time
There is a definite correlation between the first reading and the Gospel this week which appears to be hospitality on the surface. Growing up in the O’Callaghan household we were taught the importance of hospitality by our parents and by their modeling of such. In my Father’s case we never knew when he would bring someone home for dinner even in the leanest of times. He never really worried about having enough to share because he could always count on our mom to make meals stretch by adding a can of beans or rice to a stew or cutting up a kielbasa to add to the macaroni and cheese. There were times when he would bring home a struggling student, a homeless person, someone down on their luck or the stranger who just needed someone to tell their story to. He taught me unexpected meetings such as these were encounters with Christ.
Abraham’s encounter with God comes in the form of three men who were traveling past his tent in the heat of the day. He responds to the strangers by running out, bowing down and engaging them, offering them hospitality by serving them, which was an obligation in those days. Except for the announcement in verse one there is no indication to the reader exactly when Abraham realizes he is in the company of The Lord, however there is no doubt when one of the strangers inquires about Sarah by name. There is no way in this time and culture a stranger would ask or know the name of a man’s wife, much less provide the revelation she would be expecting a son. The writer goes to great length to describe the encounter and how well Abraham served the strangers. I’m given the thought he would have treated the least as well as the greatest of those who passed his way.
As Abraham served the strangers regardless of who they may have been was illustrated by the hospitality of my mom. Back in the 1970’s when my dad served as Governor of Nevada he had introduced legislation requiring the use of a helmet while operating a motorcycle in the state of Nevada. Obviously, this didn’t sit well with many bikers, including members of the Hell’s Angels who had come to the Governor’s Mansion to demonstrate their discontent with intimidation by numbers, perhaps 100 or so. It was cold blistery day in Carson City when they rolled up to 600 North Mountain Street to block the driveways and confront the governor. He wasn’t home, however, my mom was and she looked out to see what all the commotion was. In her eyes she saw all these folks on motorcycles out in the cold who must have come a long way and were certainly hungry. Indeed, she did what she always had done, welcomed the stranger with hot coffee, hot chocolate and sandwiches. It didn’t take long for my dad to receive word the state house was being invaded by outlaw biker from California. He immediately returned to house with law enforcement backup to find not mayhem, rather the First Lady cheerfully providing hospitality to cold and hungry bikers. I remember my dad asking, “What the hell is going on here and why are you feeding these people”, and she replied, “They were hungry and it was cold outside”, he was without words. They did get their meeting with the Governor and Nevada still has a helmet law.
As it was with the two sisters when Jesus visited their house, Martha was doing all the serving, probably much more than was needed, becoming anxious over the details. On the other hand, Mary was sitting at Jesus feet taking in every word he spoke. Why, because this was a significant encounter. Jesus was teaching her, a woman, it was unheard of. Martha is upset because she is doing all the work and then Jesus tells her there is only need for one thing and Mary was doing it by listening and being present.
There are many takeaways from these readings however there are two I would like us to consider. First, every person I come in contact with is likely an encounter with Jesus or at the very least a person with human dignity, that person made in the image and likeness of God. In this Year of Mercy, we have been called to do corporal works of mercy which are directly connected to hospitality such as feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty and shelter the homeless. We are now well into the second half of the Year of Mercy, take a moment to reflect on how we are doing thus far. Second, in our very busy lives with schedules and to do lists are we taking time to be truly present with one another. Sometimes it’s easy to be like Martha consumed with all the details of living and serving, when we should take time to be like Mary and just sit with Jesus who is in the least of us. Take time to visit friends and family, hug your kids, call your grandma, engage your neighbor, kiss your spouse and encounter Jesus.
Indeed, we are called to hospitality, however, on a deeper level is it not our obligation to be present to one another and encounter Christ?