SIXTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR C
Theme: To Inherit Eternal Life.
First Reading: Genesis 18:1-10a;
Responsorial: Psalm 15;
Second Reading: Colossians 1:24-28
Gospel: Luke 10:38-42
*The Sunday Missal, Paulines Publications Africa
here is a kind of hospitality that stems from self-interest, the kind extended in the hope of getting something in return. The main characteristic of genuine hospitality is its gratuity. Two biblical figures were thought to be models in Israel of this kind of hospitality, Job and Abraham. The first was reported to have built a special house for the poor. Abraham was not just held up as our father in the faith, but was also thought to be an example of genuine hospitality.
He was sitting at the entrance to his tent, and taking a rest during the hottest part of the day when, raising his eyes, he saw three men standing near him. He hurried towards them, sent for water and invited them to sit down under a tree. He hurried back into the tent and told Sarah: ‘Quick, knead three measures of best flour and make some loaves!’ Then he himself ran to the herd and chose the best calf and gave it to the servant who hurried to prepare it. When everything was ready he offered his guests curds, milk and the calf which had been prepared, and while they ate he remained standing beside them under the tree.
At the start Abraham is seated and his guests are standing; at the end the roles are reversed. The three men are sitting down, and their host is standing, ready to serve them. When the guests first arrived there is a great deal of running about. Abraham stops running only when everything is ready. He remains standing, however, near his guests, ready to fulfil their every wish.
Abraham’s attitude is instructive. Are people in the hospital treated with this attention and courtesy? Have we not seen employees reading newspapers and ignoring the long queue of people waiting in the sun for their attention? Is this Christian behaviour? How are people from other tribes welcomed into our communities?
God was pleased with Abraham and to show it, he gave Abraham what he had most wanted, a child. Who gave and who received most? Do we not realise that in the guise of a poor person God often asks us for hospitality, just as he asked Abraham on that day under the oaks of Mamre (cf. Mt 25:31-46)?
Paul wrote this letter from his prison in Rome. Few people had worked as hard as he worked. In today’s reading he tells us that in spite of all his suffering he is happy because he knows that he has given his life to the gospel. Christ worked in him and through him, making himself present among the men and women of that time and offering them his love (24). In prison Paul is forced into inactivity, but looking back at his past life, he can see that he spent it well. He revealed to the pagans a mystery hidden for generations and now revealed to Christians (25-27). What remains for him is to teach them even more in order to make them all perfect in Christ (28-29).
We have in our communities apostles as generous as Paul, those who do not spare themselves and who are not put off by difficulties. Their whole concern is to announce the gospel. Their memory will be blessed forever.
Once again Luke presents Jesus as he sits down to eat in somebody’s house. Today he is the guest of two sisters.
Martha, the elder, knows that a cup of wine and good food, presented with courtesy, shows more affection than words. Mary, the younger sister, sits quietly at Jesus’ feet and listens to what he is saying. This is the cause of a quarrel between the sisters.
Before reflecting on the main theme, we must clarify the most important and significant detail of the episode, Mary sat down at the Lord’s feet and listened to him speaking (39). Stress is laid, in the first place, on the position taken by Mary, “She sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.” This is not just a piece of information, this is an expression which at the time of Jesus meant that a person had become a disciple of a rabbi, and was officially attending his lessons. In the Acts of the Apostles, for instance, Paul proudly recalls, “At the feet of Gamaliel I was educated” (Acts 22:3), to say that he had been a disciple of the most famous teacher of his time.
What was strange about presenting Mary as a “pupil” of Jesus was that at the time no master would have accepted a female disciple. The rabbis had a saying, “Better burn the Bible than entrust it to a woman;” or “Women should never say blessings before meals;” and again, “If a woman goes to a synagogue, let her hide herself, she is not to be seen in public.” This being the mentality of the people at the time, we may understand how revolutionary Jesus was by allowing women to be included among his disciples. Should we not do away with discrimination too?
Mary was not absorbed in prayer, she “listened to him speaking.” She was not listening to idle chatter, she was paying attention to the “Word.” Those who take this Mary as their model to justify their long prayers, do not understand that here we are not dealing with some devout practice, but with “hearing the Word” or “listening to the Word,” which is quite another thing.
Let us now reflect on the most difficult part of today’s gospel, Jesus’ “scolding” of Martha and his praise of Mary. If this is how we see it, as a scolding and a praising, then perhaps we have got it wrong. Martha is not rebuked for doing her work, but because she worries and frets about many things and, in particular because she puts work before the Word. Jesus’ point, in the exchange is that the important thing is to listen to the Word.
We are not interested in two sisters having a disagreement nor is Luke. Luke’s point is that even our apostolic work is merely the clatter of pots and pans if it is not nourished by the Word. Mary chose the better part because she listened to the Word. Even Mary, the mother of Jesus, is praised for this. She gave time to listen to the Word (Lk 1:38.45; 2:19; 8:21). Here is a curious thing: all those presented to us as models for listening to the Word are women! Are women more open and more ready than men to listen to the Master?
The story ends with the words of Jesus to Martha (41-42), but I am of the opinion that the matter did not end there. Martha, determined and active as she was, probably did not accept the criticism without reacting. Let us use our imagination to see what might have happened.
Vv 43-52. Martha, rather excited from being close to the fire and annoyed by the behaviour of her sister, didn’t allow Jesus to finish what he was saying and shouted back from the kitchen, “I would like to hear what you have to say, too. Why don’t you both come out here to talk, so I can hear?”
“You are right, Martha, you are right! Don’t get excited!” replied Jesus and smilingly went into the kitchen followed by Mary.
Martha gave him an apron and told him to watch the fire under the chicken and told him to tell them the news from Galilee.
Mary laid the table, did the clearing-up and the dish washing, while Jesus and Martha continued their conversation. Mary was happy.
Which of them did better that night, Martha or Mary? Is it true that time spent listening to the Word of God is time stolen from serving our brothers and sisters?
SIXTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR C
*Adapted from: Celebrating the Word, Year C by Fernando Armellini— Paulines Publications Africa, Revised Edition 2007