16th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Genesis 18: 1 – 10a; Ps 15; Colossians 1: 24 – 28; Luke 10: 38 – 42
In the Rule of St Benedict we read: “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ, for He is going to say, ‘I came as a guest, and you received Me’.” (RB 53) Throughout the Rule, St. Benedict quotes from Sacred Scripture and sometimes alludes to it. One might wonder if he had in mind the passage from Genesis, when he wrote about welcoming guests, of traditional Benedictine hospitality.
In the reading from Genesis there is something rather curious and very mysterious. It states first; “The Lord appeared to Abraham…Looking up, Abraham saw three men standing nearby…” First, the Lord then three men! This has led this appearance event to be named “The Old Testament Trinity” and made famous in richly beautiful Russian Icon.
The guests obviously are exceptional – Abraham runs to greet them bowing to the ground and Abraham’s welcome, his hospitality is extravagant, to say the least. The servant is given a tender, choice steer and commanded to quickly prepare it. Two thoughts: one tender, choice steer for three guests is a lot of steer which Abraham calls “a little food” and how quickly can this servant prepare the choice steer just seized from the herd? – clearly the “quickly prepare” will take some time. Abraham is in charge of curds and milk and Sarah is ordered, “Quick,…knead and make rolls.”
The host, the servant, the wife are truly busy because hospitality is most important and all the while the three mysterious guests with bathed feet rest under a tree. Gracious, cordial hospitality is given and just as graciously welcomed. Abraham, a host for whom nothing is too much, does, in his human way, represent our God whose hospitality is divinely gracious and infinitely unlimited.
In the Gospel we heard: “Jesus entered a village where a woman named Martha welcomed Him. She had a sister named Mary…” We know from the Gospel that these sisters and their brother Lazarus were very dear and close friends of Jesus; they welcomed Him and He embraced them in friendship. The hospitality is mutual.
“The Lord appeared to Abraham” and “Jesus entered a village” – these appearances are fulfilled for us today. In this Abbey Church the Lord is no less present to us than He was to Abraham and Martha and Mary. Present in the Tabernacle but also present in the proclamation of the Word, present in this Holy Eucharist and present in us who are the Body of Christ, God’s people. We are surrounded, touched, embraced by the Divine Presence.
So we gather to welcome Him as a community of faith and by our own personal faith. We extend to Him the hospitality of our faith and it is by our faith that we truly serve Him. There is a wonderful dynamic of grace present in all this; for by our service of faith to the Lord, a gift we have received from Him to begin with, we are desiring to be served by Him. That is why we come!
We are encountering our Lord, yours and mine, to receive His most sacred hospitality – He gives us, each one, His very Self – a banquet beyond comprehension, hospitality beyond any measure. What is required of us is to be present in faith. In the account of Martha and Mary, I believe, Jesus is giving us a teaching on being present – Martha, full of good will, was too much taken up with meal details than being present to the Lord and Mary, very taken with the Lord, was totally present to Him, at His feet and listening. Although Jesus dined with them, in reality, the Lord did not come to be fed or served but to feed, to serve, to bring all to life. And for this He gave His life.
St. Paul tells us in Colossians – our God desires to make known to us, to fill us with the riches of His glory – the Lord Jesus Himself! Our hospitality, our welcome is our being present, our being receptive in faith. So, a question: is my presence here one of listening, of receptivity, of desire for the Lord or to be honest, even here, in the Lord’s presence as He comes to me, am I busy about many things? Perhaps, each of us, in our busyness of whatever degree, needs to pray for the desire of the better part, Mary’s part, the part Jesus praised wholeheartedly.