“There is an appointed time for everything” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Our challenge lies in recognizing what time is appropriate for what action or non action. The onus lies on us to seek to balance our activities in life as we seek to do what is essential for salvation.
The first reading and the gospel tell us about hospitality: in the case of the first reading, Abraham did not know those he welcomed while in the gospel Mary and Martha welcome old friends, Jesus and his apostles. There is some element of running around to cater for the needs of these guests. However, we also see Mary at the feet of Jesus listening to him. Our reflections will conclude with the message of imprisoned St. Paul to the Colossians who should recognise that Jesus Christ is always a guest within them as a community and as individuals.
A little background information is necessary for us to appreciate what Abraham did for the three sojourners. At that time Abraham was promised a land. When he came to this place there were people already in the land. He put up his tent and lived among them in this often dry land with very hot afternoons at times. He had to look after his animals.
We are told that Abraham was at the entrance of his tent when he saw three strangers, on foot, approaching his tent (Genesis 18: 1-10). He rushed out to meet them and offered them temporary resting; gave them some water to drink and killed one of his animals to prepare food for them. A wonderful gesture of goodness to unknown travelers! Abraham’s hospitality rendered to these three travelers was rewarded. One of the travelers said to Abraham, “I shall visit you again next year, without fail, and your wife will then have a son.” This was great for Abraham because God had promised him land and descendants as many as the stars in heaven. He has seen the land and now his wife shall bear him a son within a year – the fulfillment of God’s promise to him. When God visits us, God leaves us with a gift.
A similar event of receiving visitors is presented in the gospel of today (Luke 10: 38 -42). (It is presented against the backdrop of last week’s reflections which may suggest focus on what we should do to our neighbor.) This time the guests were Jesus and his apostles who were known to Mary and Martha – I wonder why Luke did not mention their brother Lazarus. Jesus was only three kilometers from Jerusalem (Bethany) as he resolutely journeyed towards the city. It is said in the book of Revelation (3: 20) that the one who hears the voice of Jesus and opens the door, he will enter and live with such a person.
Mary and Martha welcome Jesus in their different ways. Like Abraham, Martha rushed here and there to prepare food for Jesus and his apostles, while Mary sat at the feet of Jesus listening to what he was teaching. When Martha complained that her sister, Mary, should help her in the catering she was told, “…It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her.” For Martha, giving food to the visitors was very important and as for Mary, sitting and listening to Jesus took precedence over anything else. Martha sought to give presents to the visitors while Mary sought to be present to them. Both are of great importance in our lives if we can discern when to do what. For example, in the case of an emergency, you are at prayer in your home and there is a fire outbreak in your neighbor’s house, it may be wrong to continue listening to Jesus…it is an urgent call to action in order to put out the fire. You are very free to disagree with my opinion. Whatever your stance may be at least follow me as we look at the second reading (Colossians 1: 24 -28).
At this time St. Paul was in prison in Rome. He wrote to the Christian community of Colossae. He indicated that he was chosen to preach the Good News to non-Jews. He preached “…the message which was a mystery hidden for generations and centuries and has now been revealed to his saints. The mystery is Christ among you … the Christ we proclaim … and instruct everyone, to make them all perfect in Christ. Paul’s preaching was meant to transform the listeners (and us) to become more like Jesus.
Let us draw out some lessons from our reflections. We should learn that genuine hospitality is often rewarded – I am not talking about hospitality that has become an art or a trade. Those who have travelled extensively can easily recognize artful hospitality (e.g. plastic smiles) which differs from when you reach your own and one of them tells you in wollof , “masa chono yon-bi”(sorry for the difficulties of the journey) and helps you put down the load on your head.
Secondly, Jesus visits us in many ways: when we come together in prayer, read the Bible, and in the celebration of the sacraments. We can meet Jesus in the poor, marginalized, and in some experiences in our life – e.g. when we are confined in prison, like Paul in Rome.
The third point I want to raise is: life is a journey and today’s world is full of activities. Often one who is not involved in productive material activity can be seen as wasting time. “If our activity is to be wise and fruitful, there must also be times of stillness, prayer, of being in touch with our own inner worlds and being open to intimacy – to hear the inner worlds of others.”
Our final point is that we should have a balance between work and prayer. One cannot go well without the other.
Let us pray:
“Lord, you grant life in your presence. You instill a prayerful contemplation in us as we sit at your feet, provided we do justice, walk blamelessly, think the truth in our heart and slander not with our tongue. Sanctify our common sense that we may do the right thing towards neighbor. Then our prayer will be sacred.” Amen