•Genesis 18:1-10a • Colossians 1:24-28 • Luke 10:38-42•
Weekly Scripture Readings:16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
In May of this year I had the opportunity to travel extensively in the North African country of Morocco. It was an amazing trip in an exotic, Islamic country. Our group had the opportunity to visit four families in their homes and an additional three Bedouin families in their tents. In each visit we were warmly welcomed. One of those visits really impressed me. In the Sahara Desert we visited Omar, his wife and three small children. Their life style is very simple. As in the other visits, Omar’s wife immediately prepared and served us mint tea. Conversations were informative and often sprinkled with laughter.
I was thinking of those experiences as I studied today’s text from Luke’s gospel. Luke is the only Gospel writer to preserve this story of Martha and Mary. From Luke’s description it appears this was the first time Jesus met the sisters. In a totally different context John informs us they were the sisters of Lazarus.
We are not told how this relationship developed. It seems Jesus loved these two sisters and their brother very much.
During the short span of his public ministry, many among the Hebrew people were attracted to Jesus because of his teaching and his life style. As that community grew he invited some to follow him. The written gospels refer to them as “disciples.” From among them a smaller inner circle emerged known as “the Twelve.”
Apparently “the Twelve” accepted his itinerant lifestyle and accompanied him as he moved from village to village. They often did not know where they would be staying at night. They relied on the hospitality of people, like Martha and Mary, to provide food and shelter for the night. A German scholar refers to those such as Martha and Mary as “resident adherents.” Apparently there were many such “resident adherents. Those who provided such hospitality probably became the bases of the Jesus movement.
There are many levels of good news in this text. In our culture today a common greeting is “I bet you are really busy.” We all can learn from Mary. In her we see the need to set aside our “busyness” in order to silence our deepest self and listen. Our culture has a strong tendency to narcissism. We all can learn from Martha. In her we are reminded that it is in serving others, openly giving self to others, that we experience God with us.
Perhaps the most significant lesson I have learned in the 55 years of my ordained life is that breaking bread, in Eucharist or in shared meals, is an experience of communion. Our meals can be truly sacramental – signs and experiences of God with us. That is possible and happens when we openly give our whole self to the others and openly receive the other.
That is why, even now in Senior Status I continue to offer hospitality to as many people as I can. Since moving into my residence six and a-half years ago, I welcomed 5151 people for liturgy, simple gatherings or a meal. Doing so requires me to be fully present and generous to whoever comes through the door. It also drains my energy and at the end of April I began to think the whole meal deal is too much.
Then in May I was given the grace of warm hospitality from the people of Morocco. In July I have been pondering and listening to this Martha and Mary story. Then while writing this homily I have reconsidered my own ministry of hospitality.
I treasure my memories of Omar and his wife in the Sahara Desert. I know the simplicity of their life-style and the amount of time and effort required of them to extend warm hospitality to total strangers requires a lot from them. I know that it is in serving others, openly giving self to others, that we experience God with us. Thank you Omar. Thank you Martha and Mary. I feel a fresh call to continue inviting people to share life around the table in my residence.