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Thursday, 14 July 2022 13:43

True hospitality

 Jesus came to a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. She had a sister called Mary, who sat down at the Lord’s feet and listened to him speaking.

Now Martha who was distracted with all the serving said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do all the serving all by myself? Please tell her to help me.’ But the Lord answered: ‘Martha, Martha,’ he said, ‘you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her.’ (Luke 10:38-42)

Preparing food for a special occasion or a valued guest can be a daunting task. These days, it can also be filled with all sorts of traps as food preferences continue to change and various allergies appear.

In the story which Luke tells in this Gospel, it is obvious that Martha has gone to a great deal of trouble to welcome and provide for Jesus, the guest.

Pre-occupied with the serving and annoyed with Mary passively sitting at Jesus’ feet, Martha’s anxiety gets the better of her and she asks Jesus to intervene.

In a way, Martha is like a well-intentioned host who prepares a full dinner of roast meat only to find that the guest is vegetarian! Perhaps true hospitality might have found that out before the meal was prepared. Perhaps true hospitality might have thought about what the guest has to offer, not only about what the host wants to provide.

So often in the Gospels the initial roles in a story get reversed. In this Gospel it seems that Jesus, the guest, has something to offer that Martha overlooks, but Mary recognises. Jesus becomes the host. And it is he who ends up doing the ‘feeding’, not Martha.

And, what of Mary? Apparently lost in listening to Jesus and oblivious to Martha’s need for help? It seems all wrong to us that Jesus praises her for choosing ‘the better part’. Jesus refuses to send Mary back to the kitchen. His reply can also be read as an invitation for Martha to leave her lavish preparations and to join them.

True hospitality for the disciple lies in getting to know and spending time with the Guest.

The position of this story in Luke’s Gospel, sandwiched between the parable of the Good Samaritan (the ideal disciple) and Jesus’ teaching about prayer, could suggest that both are needed – deep attention to the Word of God and robust action: hearing and doing the Word.

It could also suggest that hearing the Word comes first, followed by doing the Word in works of service. It may also suggest the importance of paying attention to making the right choice at any given moment – not to be so caught up in doing even good works that we forget to nourish our relationship with Jesus.

What it does clearly show, however, is that both men and women are called to discipleship.

Mary, the more marginalised figure in the story, offers the kind of hospitality that Jesus wants in a disciple: an open and listening heart.

Download & read our Celebrating At Home prayers, reading and reflection for this Sunday:

pdf Celebrating At Home 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time [PDF] (3.10 MB)                         
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