My friends, this week’s readings from Ordinary Time, that odd-named time, in my mind, calls us to go deeper as many times is the case in these in-between times in our Church calendar. In fact, “In-Between Times” might be a better name for this season that is anything but “ordinary.”
The theme of “traveling,” that of a “traveler in the faith,” seems evident in each of the readings today. Travelers are received and cared for in the first reading from Genesis. In Paul’s reading to the Colossians, the notion of “traveling through life,” making the best of all that comes our way, even the hard times, coming to the understanding that basically, “God is always about making us complete in Christ.”
Luke’s gospel selection for today tells the familiar story of Martha and Mary, addressing Martha’s need, “to go deeper,” traveling, as it were, into herself, helping her and us by extension to see that life calls for more than mere hospitality, caring for people’s physical needs and that they have other needs as well, which we will address in a bit.
Another theme then that is addressed in today’s readings is that of “hospitality” and even though this is a good thing, it is meant only as a tool to a greater good—we see this in both the first reading from Genesis and in the gospel reading from Luke.
Just as we are each hard-wired to love, from the beginning, the Israelite people through their culture and belief systems were hard-wired to extend hospitality to the stranger, traveling through their country.
Their very history of being “sojourners in a harsh land,” taught them to extend hospitality to the stranger, even if their enemy, in need of assistance as they traveled through the land. It was like, “Doing to others what you would have them do to you,” kind of thing. We see a prime example of this in the Genesis reading where Abraham and Sarah work so hard to extend physical hospitality to the three travelers who came their way. It is good to spend a moment or two thinking about the lengths they went, to care for these travelers—killing the fatted-calf and roasting some of it for a meal was, I am thinking, an all-day process.
The same thing is going on in the gospel story of Martha and Mary—physical hospitality—something hard-wired into the very psyche of the Israelite people. But there is a third theme weaving its way through these readings that needs to be addressed today and that is the virtue of “listening” and I believe it is this virtue that we are expected to take away from these readings.
The three travelers in the Genesis reading had a specific purpose in stopping by the tent of Abraham and Sarah beyond the need for physical hospitality—a purpose we don’t discover until the very end of the reading—they came to announce that next year, at this time, Sarah and Abraham would have the long-awaited child of all their married years together—the answer to their prayers. This couple, you will recall, was quite elderly by this time!
Now if this couple had been aware at the outset that the three travelers brought such wonderful news, would they have “cut to the chase,” so to speak, dispensing with the good action of a meal for strangers, to learn through their true connection with the sojourners, the purpose of them stopping by?
It would have indeed asked them to make a sea-change in their thinking, but it would seem that this is what Jesus is asking of us today in the gospel.
There have been so many homilies given over time since Jesus lived trying to answer the question of who was doing the better deed, Martha who prepared the meal or Mary who sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to his words.
It is important, I think, to keep in mind that while Jesus was a human of his time in history; he was always about “turning things on their heads,” taking people deeper. We need not spend time trying to decide whether Jesus was unkind to Martha, slaving in the kitchen, telling her that “Mary had chosen the better part.” We must go to that deeper place with Jesus and try to understand what he is telling Martha and those of us, “busy with many things.”
We have always been “spiritual beings here, having a human experience,” as someone wiser than me has said, and it seems Jesus’ mission here, among other things, is to remind us of that, giving those we encounter, what truly fills the soul—that of being listened to, understood and appreciated for what another walks with.
We can only imagine the human need that our brother Jesus had when he came for respite among his close friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus, to be listened to and understood without the questions, accusations or ridicule that he often found from those he encountered in his ministry. No doubt, his days weren’t always filled with the beatific vision!
“Being busy about many things,” is our human way, I think, to not get totally involved with others. I was reminded of this at a meeting I attended this past week. One of the participants who is also a board member for the Winona Warming Center, operated from November through the end of March each year, mentioned that they had a discussion at one of their meetings recently, asking how “welcoming” we are when guests arrive to spend the night? What is the first thing they are exposed to, but a set of forms to fill out?
I believe they decided that a more welcoming gesture would be to get the guests inside, settled, warmed up with some refreshments and then later in the evening, fill out the paperwork.
“Being busy with many things,” things that may indeed make others’ lives better, while good, may not be what people most need—again the example of those who frequent the Warming Center or the Catholic Worker House might benefit from a warm welcome, or a simple conversation as much as the warm space or the delicious food we put before them.
Again, I want to stress that hospitality on one level is not bad; even Jesus did not say what he did to Martha until she complained that Mary wasn’t helping her prepare the meal. It was at this point that Jesus seemingly reprimands her. Actually, what he is doing is asking her to get beyond her “busyness” so that they can really share and grow closer.
So much of the message friends in today’s readings is about making the connections with others with whom we share this planet, hearing each other’s stories, walking with them and they with us, all of us connecting on deeper levels, not just in our own backyards, but around the world. The Spirit will give us these opportunities if we are open to the possibility.
I made a mini retreat with the Sisters and Cojourners in Rochester the past few days, and during a celebration prayer service for the Sisters celebrating 50 years of commitment as a Sister, the congregation was asked to share in twos the ways that we had encountered God through our lives. I was sitting next to a Sister whom I have known in the past and we connected on that deeper level sharing concerns, frustrations, and joys and in that time together, gave each other, hope—something we were both looking for.
Paul’s idea that God is always about making us all “complete in Christ,” is a theme in present day Franciscan authors, Sr. Ilia Delio and Fr. Richard Rohr. Both write about the “Cosmic Christ” and of how Christ is for all of us, wanting our best, calling us to all that we can be and this demands that we be good listeners of other’s stories. We must always put a human face to any “seeming problem,” put ourselves in that same place as another and then it ceases to be as much of a problem and more of an occasion for completion in the human story.
Spewing accusations and racist comments and ramping up such rhetoric for political gain is just plain wrong and those of us who know and realize the danger of this kind of action for what it does to the necessary connections that we must all make in life, beyond ourselves, must address it and say that we do not agree!
So, I have never told you that Ordinary Time is a time to sit back and “lollygag,” (don’t know where I ever got that term, but I think you understand my meaning!) but a time to be our best, act and treat others as we want to be treated, love even when it’s difficult, and never, never lose hope that this all makes a difference! Amen? Amen!