By F. Luis Casasus, General Superior of idente missionaries
Commentary on the Sunday Gospel of 21-7-2019, Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Book of Genesis 18,1-10; Letter to the Colossians 1,24-28; Saint Luke 10,38-42)
We all know some persons who always demand from others to give all sorts of explanations for everything…and for them, it will never be enough. Why should we have to wear a tie? Why do I have to say thank you? Why do you smile to the postman?
Having to explain everything you do is a burden. But, most importantly, it reveals a lack of hospitality on the part of the person who always demands more clarifications.
Hospitality is much more than a simple welcome or an offer of food or drink. It is an attitude of heart, a form of trust that opens us to others and receives them on their own terms. It is a necessary consequence of our status as pilgrims in this world.
As has been noted by Henri Nouwen, hospitality means primarily, the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not a subtle invitation to adopt the lifestyle of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his own.
The challenge is to offer friendship without binding the guest and freedom without leaving him alone.
Jesus pointed out the sinful behavior of Simon the Pharisee who has invited him to dinner (Lk 7:36-50). When a woman known to be a sinner approached Jesus, weeping and anointing his feet with ointment, Simon judged not only her but also the legitimacy of Jesus as prophet because he should not be allowing the touch of such a woman. When Jesus points out Simon’s lack of hospitality to him and compares it to how generous the woman has been with her love, everyone at the table is surprised when he then says: Your sins are forgiven. Her life was changed forever, as a result of the welcoming and the hospitality she extended to Christ.
Often our lack of hospitality is simply the failure to notice and acknowledge the needs of those closest to us. Jesus models that attentiveness. He noticed the trials that others went through: the sick, the excluded, the sinners, like the woman who poured an expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet.
We see in the First Reading how Abraham’s hospitality is pleasing to God and, to show how much he appreciated it, God gave him the greatest favor that the patriarch could want: He gave him a son. It is a sign that any form of welcome offered to those in need is most pleasing to God.
In the Old Testament, there is another living model of hospitality: Job, who was said to have built his house with four doors, one at each cardinal point, to prevent the poor getting tired in finding the entry.
Hospitality in its deepest meaning, is more than a virtue and far more profound than good manners. Our father Founder has taught us that the two basic efforts of our ascetical prayer, Recollection (in my Mind) and Quietude (in my Will) have to be completed with an embrace, a true welcoming of the thoughts and desires that come from God. This embrace is a true act of hospitality, an active response to the divine action in our mind and will. His action cannot have any result unless we respond and cooperate. God can no more become our spiritual light and strength without receptive action than undigested bread can be the staff of life. Mother Mary is praised for this reason, because she was attentive to the Word (Lk 2:19).
The fruit of this receptive action is an intellectual union with the Gospel, accepting its teachings and translating them to our situation, to our struggle with passions. This enables us to develop a true Spirit of the Gospel, a consistent form of obedience in all type of situations. This effort and the state to which it leads are called Formulative (or Didactic) Union.
For example, when I understand that Jesus calls to unconditional forgiveness and I really appreciate the value of such attitude, the next and crucial step is to implement forgiveness in all circumstances, not only when my personal sensitivity is asking me to do so.
This deeper meaning of hospitality explains the words of the Book of Revelation: Look, I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my call and open the door, I will come in to you and have supper with you, and you with me (Rev 3:20) and also portraits our rejection of his desire to enter into our life: He came to His own, yet his own people did not receive him (Jn 1:11).
To understand the lesson of today’s Gospel, it is important to note that Martha is not reprimanded because she works, but because she is agitated, anxious, worried, troubled about many things and working without having first heard the Word. Martha, a true child of Abraham, wanted to extend the traditional generous hospitality of her people to Jesus, the true Messiah, by preparing an elaborate meal for him. Probably, Mary who, deep in thought, quiet and happy, puts on her apron and took her sister’s place in the kitchen.
This is what happened to Abraham in the First Reading story. He was sitting at the entrance of the tent, resting in the heat of the day, meditating on what God said to him (Gen 17:1-27). As soon as he sees the “three men” standing nearby, runs to meet them and, with Sarah and the servants, remains vigilant and attentive, ready to meet their every need, to respond to their every desire.
This is the priority: listening to the Word of God.
At the same time, Martha became a woman of faith as well as an active person, for when her brother Lazarus died, she was the one who ran out to meet Jesus and placed her faith in Him saying: If you had been here, my brother would not have died, but I know that, even now, whatever you ask of God, he will grant you. And she also confessed her faith in Christ, saying: I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who has come into this world.
There are many people of good will, dedicated to the service of Christ and the brothers and sisters. They are generous of their time, effort and money. Yet even in this intense and generous activity there lurks a danger: that much feverish work is separated from hearing the word, and becomes anxiety, confusion, even jealousy and envy. Even the apostolic commitments and acts of governance, not guided by the Word is reduced into vain noise and nervousness. Even though one might apparently be very much engaged in the service of God, we cannot always be sure or claim that it is a manifestation of our love for God. When we listen to Christ, we do not forget the commitment to people: we learn to do it the right way… without agitation.
What really gives us joy is not so much our achievements. Rather it is our union with God and because of our union with Him, we want to express this union by loving our fellowmen. So it is immaterial how much can we do so long as whatever we do is the sharing of God’s love. This is the case of Saint Paul in today’s passage, when he was already getting on in years, he feels deeply happy because he knows he has devoted his entire life to the cause of the Gospel. In him, Christ has continued his work: he is made present among people and offered them his unconditional love ….
St Augustine asks what will happen when we reach the end of our pilgrimage when there is no longer any work. As we grow older, a time will come when we can no longer work. Does it mean that our lives will end up in misery because we cannot serve anymore? Surely not! When the time comes we will simply spend the rest of our lives contemplating on the wonders of God’s love for us and His presence.
Sometimes, in our daily conviviality, we talk at each other as if we knew beforehand what the other was going to say without hearing what was really being said. While one is attempting to communicate, and the other is only half listening, all the while trying to think of the most compelling response to make.
But hospitality means withdrawing part of one’s self in order that the other can fill in the space created by that self-withdrawal. We receive a revelation from the guest which can change us and enrich our lives and open us to new possibilities and ways of thinking and living. At the same time, this hospitality allows the other to enter and be healed of the wounds of isolation and loneliness. Yes, hospitality is a quality of soul, a habit of mental and emotional alertness, an openness of mind that allows us to integrate our lives into the lives of others. It is a prerequisite for intimacy and it is an essential characteristic of discipleship.