As we learn from our first reading, Gn 18:1-10 a, biblical hospitality involved welcoming strangers and treating them as honored guests; in fact, to receive the stranger was considered a blessing. Far from begrudging the inconvenience and expense of serving strangers, Abraham felt privileged. We read how he "bowed down" before the three mysterious passers-by, asking them to accept food, rest and refreshment as a "favor" to him. To honor the stranger, then, was tantamount to honoring God -- a belief that finds echoes in Jesus' words about the corporal works of mercy:
"And the king will say in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me"
(Matt 25:40). The heart of the Jewish Law, of course, is based on love of God and neighbor, with "neighbor" referring not just to the person next door but to the poor and vulnerable in our midst, especially foreigners:
“When strangers sojourn with you in your land, you shall not do them wrong.You shall treat the strangers who sojourn with you as the native among you, and you shall love them as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God"
Sadly, we live in a world devoid of religious values. Across the globe, the "stranger" is viewed not as an angelic manifestation but as an enemy, a criminal, a financial burden, a polluting presence. As warfare, genocide, poverty and crime continue to fuel desperation, so countless asylum seekers and undocumented migrants leave their countries of origin to start over. Instead of being welcomed, however, having survived a hazardous journey, most end up in internment camps with varying degrees of comfort; shockingly, it seems that the detention centers at our borders are among the worst cesspits of misery. Regardless of our political loyalties, the facts speak for themselves: separation of families, children being kept in cages, adults without space to lie down or even bedding, absence of toiletries and showers, poor food etc. All this makes a mockery of our national values and of all that America once represented; all this challenges our self-definition as Christians and any claim we might make to being humanitarians.
I will end with a quote from
A Pocketful of Sundays
"While ministering to a single Christ would be a challenge in itself, the corporal works of mercy call us to minister to a multitude of Christs, each one more needy than the next. There is nothing easy in being a 'post Christ' Christian."
Jesus entered a village
where a woman named Martha welcomed him.
She had a sister, Mary,
who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.
Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him, saying,
"Lord, do you not care
that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?
Tell her to help me."
The Lord said in reply,
"Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing.
Mary has chosen the better part
and it will not be taken from her."
My grandson, a 14 year old "iGen" about to start high school, recently informed me that the things he considers valuable in life are utilitarian, In other words, they serve a specific function that justifies their existence. According to Vance, art is "
utilitarian," but video games are because they teach history, geography, mental dexterity, hand-eye coordination and IT skills.
"What about flowers?" I asked. "Or beautiful scenery?"
"Well, flowers put oxygen into the air," he replied, "but scenery doesn't really serve a function."
I asked, remembering the feelings of immense joy I have experienced in the presence of beautiful vistas.
"What about a baby? Newborns can't do much that's useful."
"They continue to support the evolution of the human race," he said and there the matter ended
To have a utilitarian focus in life is very "iGen. As a Baby Boomer, I'm a Romantic at heart, a collector of beautiful things and experiences which, like the amethyst geode that sits on my desk, have no function whatsoever. In today's Gospel, it is
who is the Romantic while
is the archetype of the "Busy Person," one who values hospitality ( a cultural value) and also productivity and being useful (contemporary western values).
is also the "Nurturer" or "Caregiver," that is, someone who defines herself by taking care of others' needs, as for example, by feeding them. Often overextending herself, she ends up resenting her self-sacrifice as well as those who fail to join her in the kitchen (in this case, her sister,
). The "better part," in this Gospel narrative, is to sit at the feet of Jesus rather than become hot and flustered over sizzling lamb chops.
In a world in which communication has been narrowed down to tweets, text messages and Instagram posts (yes, Facebook is already
for both iGen and Millennials), contemplative listening seems to hold little value.
does what her culture and gender demand of her, whereas
does neither -- she sits as a student at the Teacher's feet, finding life in "being" rather than "doing." Unlike her sister,
serves "no useful purpose," unless one could argue, that her hospitality is to receive the Word that has entered under her roof; and while
identifies with what she does,
identifies with her relationship with Jesus.
For those of us who thrive on being busy, the challenge is to find that balance between the active and the contemplative. Soul-work depends upon listening -- not just to each other but to the Voice within. Some would claim that God has grown silent and no longer speaks to humanity; the reality is that God has plenty to say but we have selective hearing!