Whereas hospitality to strangers presents in the readings of this Sunday, the Lord is inviting us to identify the joy which comes from being in his presence. Abraham understands the act of being hospitable but importantly the spirituality of letting God be the host. Abraham sights three strangers and bids them come into his house. His appreciation manifests through reverential gestures, and he respectfully addresses them in these terms, “Sir, please do not go past your servant.” Abraham, rallies his household to entertain these guests. He notifies Sarah but without putting any pressure on her. He seems to flow in a simple, heartfelt manner as he waits on them. Abraham’s hospitality has in it a profound religious experience, not just to fulfill the custom of his time in line with the middle eastern tradition, but echoes an opportunity to serve and to be available according to the needs of his guests. The outcome is that the Lord, who is visiting, eventually makes a reciprocal promise, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a son” (Gen. 18:10).
Martha also plays host in the gospel to Christ. In her case, Martha is said to be “burdened with much serving,” which led her to complain to Christ, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving. Tell her to help me.” Let’s imagine the environment within this expression and the entire context of the Lord’s visit. From time to time, I have personally visited homes where the members get preoccupied about finding food and drinks for me as a priest. It is ideal that they run around, sometimes these hosts feel uncomfortable because of the presumed obligation to attend to their visitor. It is rare that someone stays to keep the visitor engaged. In Martha’s case, obviously, the cooking and preparation take the front burner. So, she asks for help. Is Martha wrong by asking Jesus to speak to Mary to help her? Perhaps Martha does what everyone else would do, namely, to make food for their guest. Christ’s response comes to Martha as both shocking and disappointing, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need only for one thing.” And he explains that this one thing gives Mary the advantage, because no one will take it from her. What must that one thing be?
To understand what Jesus is asking of Martha, maybe we can reflect on another visit of Jesus to Simon the Pharisee in Luke’s gospel (7:36-50). While in the house, the strange woman enters and begins to attend to Jesus intimately which sparks a negative reaction from the host. To that Jesus replies, “Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your home, and you gave me no water for my feet, but she has washed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You did not welcome me with a kiss, but she has not stopped kissing my feet since I came. You provided no olive oil for my head, but she has covered my feet with perfume. I tell you, then, the great love she has shown proves that her many sins have been forgiven. But whoever has been forgiven little shows only a little love” (Lk. 7:44-47). This notorious woman is also doing thing like Martha in today's gospel. She is not just listening. But the big lesson here is to go beyond the normative expectation and ritualistic tendencies that gratify the perceived host. Whereas Simon plays host to Jesus in this passage, it is the woman who expresses love and connection by her actions. Jesus spots her heart and praises her action for flowing from a genuine love for God. This woman is loving, not burdened with serving.
Martha's preoccupation with service makes her anxious while Mary stays close to Jesus. Martha’s anxieties take away the desired grace. Is Jesus in Martha’s house just to eat food? Jesus is there to engage Martha and Mary in a deep, spiritual, and loving encounter which can only come from listening to his words. Martha is physically busy while Mary is internally engaged. Martha plays host while missing the intimacy of friendship with Jesus. She loses her internal peace, hence, service becomes for her a burden.
Secondly, Martha would need to understand that even though Jesus is visiting her, He is the true Host. Mary, unlike Martha, is calm and peaceful. Making Jesus the host means enthroning him above everything else in our lives. As the Psalmist says, “Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory!” (Ps. 24:10). Martha does not understand that, nor does she understand the best attitude toward discovering Jesus. In the presence of the Lord, there are no worries or anxieties except for the lack of understanding about his presence. Jesus would invite us, “Come to me all you who are burdened and I will give you rest.” Martha’s mistake is that she reverses the order, thinking that her serving and her food would sustain the Lord. She falsely holds unto the material food she presents at the time, gets worried about her schedule and about accomplishing her intended tasks. Martha misses the point of the Lord’s visit.
Jesus is no stranger to us, else we become burdened by false expectations and results. He is the true host as he expresses it at the Last Supper, “the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (Jn. 6:63). That is why Mary makes the better choice for which no one can take away from her. Material foods perish. The pursuance of earthly comforts and bread create stress, but the food from the Lord enriches the soul. No one can take that food away from us.
Obviously, there are so many of us who are like Martha, burdened by daily tasks, encumbered by schedule, and stretched by the need to accomplish several goals on our own. The first message from Christ is that we must realize that we achieve nothing on our own without divine help from God. The second message is the invitation to slow down a little. Pause, to reflect on how the Lord feeds you. Are you busy that your internal, spiritual gas is running out? How much empty is your spiritual life? How often are you worrying because of the pressures to achieve goals? Mary adores the Lord and feels the result. Sitting before Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is one great way to find answers to your needs and expectations.
And finally, the Lord wants you to give him time when you come in to worship. As volunteer in the church -choir, usher, lector, sacristan, deacon, or priest, what is your internal disposition like? What is your attitude towards worship -distracted by the next thing to do on the list even while in church? Do we focus on others and on what they are either doing or not doing that we miss the message of the scriptures? What is the Lord asking of us? Whereas being involved and serving are all important, being present for the Lord is crucial for which Jesus summons Martha’s attention. The Lord is truly our host and feeds us with the finest wheat (cf. Ps. 147:14). Jesus hosts us in the Blessed Eucharist, to peace and joy, which dispel all anxieties and worries. Yes, “The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Ps. 46:7).
Readings: 1st- Gen. 18:1-10; 2nd- Col. 1:24-28; Gospel- Lk. 10:38-42