The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, "My lord, if I find favour with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on-since you have come to your servant." So they said, "Do as you have said."
Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, "Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes." Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
They said to him, "Where is your wife Sarah?" And he said, "There, in the tent." Then one said, "I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son."
Lord, who shall dwell on your holy mountain?
He who walks without fault;
he who acts with justice
and speaks the truth from his heart;
he who does not slander with his tongue. (R./)
He who does no wrong to his brother,
who casts no slur on his neighbour,
who holds the godless in disdain,
but honours those who fear the Lord. (R./)
He who keeps his pledge come what may;
who takes no interest on a loan
and accepts no bribes against the innocent.
Such a man will stand firm for ever. (R./)
I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. I became its servant according to God's commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.
Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."
Wouldn't we love if a whole volume of stories turned up about Martha, Mary and Lazarus; but today's episode and the raising of Lazarus (John 11) are the only ones we have. Still, even these two stories let us see Jesus in an everyday domestic setting among people that he loved and who clearly loved him. The parents of Martha and Mary were presumably dead, since we hear nothing about them. The two women were clearly very attached to Jesus and he treated them with respect and affection. This story is not teaching that one should not serve a meal to our guests. Jesus is saying rather that more important than feeding them is enjoying their company and loving them. We should never be so busy that we have no time for conversation.
Our Irish tradition laid great store by hospitality, a practice somewhat harder to keep up in a busy urban setting, but one that we would do well to keep alive, and even revive to a higher level. We are more likely to encounter the grace of God when welcoming visitors to our home, than just by sitting watching television!
"What is man that you care for him," the Psalmist asks God (Ps 4:8), "or mortal man that you keep him in mind?" Some chosen individuals seem able to grasp in a wonderful way God's plan for the human race, and have shared that knowledge with the rest of us. So the Word of God came to Abraham, not as an abstract doctrine but as a conviction grasped by the heart. Abraham's encounter with God was deeply personal. He was called the friend of God, and his welcome to God's Messengers mirrored eastern nomadic hospitality.
Abraham is a supreme example of deep-rooted trust in God. Called to leave his own clan, he stopped worshipping their gods and set out for an unknown destination. In return God promised he would become the father of a great nation. Abraham trusted and followed this call, even when there seemed little hope that this promise would ever be fulfilled. When they had practically given up hope, he again hears that his wife will bear a son, and again he trusts in God's word. Later still, when Isaac was born Abraham felt he ought to sacrifice this precious son. But he carried out this grim command, how could the promise of God evercome true? According to Genesis, later echoed by St Paul, Abraham's trust in God never wavered, and in the end was vindicated. It was for this faith that he was justified in God's sight, and this faith was passed on to Abraham's children and to all believers, including ourselves.
Jesus came in person to visit Mary, the sister of Martha, and enjoyed her vibrant relationship with him, her eager listening. On one level, we feel sorry for Martha, being left to do the household work on her own, but Jesus welcomed a listening spirit. Our attentiveness to him must not be eclipsed by the bustle of mundane things. In the text from St Paul we are told how the Word of God, hidden from all mankind for centuries, came to the people who listened to it eagerly.
What matters is to make space for God in our lives, reach out for it each day and pray the Holy Spirit to be our guide.
I love this story about Jesus visiting the two sisters and their brother in the village of Bethany. It is hard not to feel sympathy for Martha. It was her house after all, not Mary's, and she would naturally want to show it at its best. The trouble with her - as with over-anxious people in general - was that she could view things only from her own angle and became annoyed when others wished to follow a different course. She does not see is that to be a good host, we have to forget ourselves and focus on what our visitor wants from us.
Martha loved Jesus too, and it is clear that he treasured them both. Her mistake was in not realising how Jesus wished to be received. Her sister correctly sensed that when Jesus came to visit them on his way to Jerusalem, what he wanted from them was not food but conversation. So, while Martha made the greater effortat housekeeping, Mary knew better what he expected of her. Her contemplative intuition grasped instinctively the main reason for Jesus' visit. He was there not to receive but to give, not to be served but to serve. He had something to say and they needed to listen to him.
This encounter suggests a theology of contemplation, how to receive the Lord's visit. It starts from the basis that whoever our visitors may be, there is always something to be learned from them. The one who comes knocking on our door will have something to tell us, should be listened to and understood. After a frustrating debate with scribes and Pharisees, Jesus came to visit his friends, for peace and calm. He comes to talk to us in the quiet of the evening or the freshness of the morning, to share with us the Word of life. He comes not because he needs us but because we need him. We too can be distracted and "worry and fret about so many things." We may, like Martha, miss the better part, the one thing necessary, which is to listen to the Word of Christ.
The world is made up of Marthas and Marys - doers and dreamers - and the former are much more numerous than the latter. The commercial society of today places a huge premium on achievement. It is tangible results that count. Production and sales targets are set for and only those who meet them are rewarded. Captains of industry insist that pay be related to production: "shape up or ship out." And those who can't or won't are made redundant. That is, in a sense, Martha's world. Mercifully, we still have our dreamers. And like Jesus, we should cherish such dreamers for the contribution they bring to our lives.
Who are the Marys our church today? Not all of them live in cloisters, though some still do, quietly worshipping on behalf of us all. Some live a busy life at work and as home-makers, but find time in their hearts for prayer and for going to church. Others work creatively in their writing rooms or studios, patiently building their dreams of a better world for future generations. It is the poets, painters, writers, philosophers and mystics, who like Mary, have chosen the better part.