16th Sunday of Ordinary time..

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The Hospitality of Abraham

Andrei Rublev‘s The Hospitality of Abraham  is a famous Russian icon adapted from the scene of Abraham and Sarah’s visit described in the Old Testament. It is no wonder that the writing would be titled as such as Abraham delivers typical mid-eastern hospitality towards his guests. That word Hospitality gives hint towards the message contained in both the old and new testament readings. Hospitality is the relationship between host and guest which can be either hospitable or hostile. Abraham’s was clearly the former.An interesting relationship between this icon and the old testament is that it describes, according to orthodox Christianity, the appearance of the Trinity to Abraham. In Jewish tradition these three visitors are interpreted to be the Angels Michael,Raphael , and Gabriel. In that tradition Raphael heals Abraham, Michael informs them that Sarah will deliver a child in a year, and Gabriel proceeds to Sodom to destroy that wicked city.Both traditions point towards the reception or hospitality of Abraham and Sarah to the divine.

 The Gospel testament describing the hospitality of Martha and Mary towards Jesus the Christ is that same theme. How is one hospitable towards God? In the story of Martha and Mary, Martha takes a very active role in preparing for her guest by attending to Jesus needs while he visits. Mary’s role is different though as she sits with her guest listening. Martha gets irritated at Mary’s behavior and requests that Jesus directs Mary to help with the work. Jesus responds that Mary is in fact doing what is proper.Temple culture of the day so emphasized the culture of Martha, Jesus though embraces a culture of Mary that is attentive to God.One that listens to the voice of God.On one hand who can argue with Jesus? To him listening to his words is right, but today if someone does not take an active role in bringing that message: how will anyone have the ability to listen? While listening to the word of God is the best thing to do, service in the name of God is a necessity. The harvest (Mary) is plentiful; but the workers (Martha) are few. The gospel story illustrates that above all, listening or obedience is paramount, but there are more mundane needs that must be attended to.


 Saint Francis in his instruction to the friars used this example of Martha and Mary as the rule for how friars were to interact. In his rule he acknowledges the importance of following Mary, yet also the necessity of Martha.. In his rule the friars were to take upon themselves the active role of Mother and do as Martha does, while the others are to take the role of “son” and do as Mary. Martha’s role is active service, while Mary’s is contemplative.So that those that are doing the active service do not get deprived of the rewards of contemplation he ordered that they reverse their duties so that all might both partake in the labor and reap the benefits.Pragmatic! Saint Ambrose describes the relationship between the two as “Martha and Mary’s example shows us active devotion in the works of the former and a heart’s devout attention to the word of God in the latter.” While Mary’s role is the ideal, Martha’s is a necessity. Some say we all act like Martha, but aspire towards Mary. The trick between Martha and Mary is not to choose one or the other, but strike a balance between the two. Perhaps even better is to contemplate God in every action one takes.


In going back to the Old Testament and the hospitality of Abraham another interesting correlation between the Old and New testaments is that in the Old Testament reading the visitors ask  Abraham “Where is your Wife Sarah?”, to which he replies “There,in the tent.” The visitor then tells Abraham “I will surely return to you about this time next year,and Sarah will then have a son.” In the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary; Mary receives the message that she will conceive a son directly from the angel Gabriel. That is “The Hospitality of Mary.”


In thinking of the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah to the three visitors, along with the hospitality of Martha and Mary towards Jesus, one of the points to think of is our relationship to  God. It is Jesus that reminds us that our best action is simply to listen to God. There is though another relationship in both the Old and New Testament.  It is not just our relationship to God that needs to be examined, but importantly Gods hospitality towards us.”The Hospitality of God.” In the Old Testament Sarah prepares a meal for the three visitors understood to be the three Angels of the bible. In the New Testament the tradition is not Angels, but a prefigured reference to the Trinity: God comes to us. It is not an angel of God that is with Martha and Mary, but Jesus Christ the second person of the trinity. God so loved the world that he gave his only son. As Sarah prepared a meal for those guests, God has prepared a banquet for us that is the body and blood of Christ. While important to examine our relationship with God, it is the supreme mistake not to contemplate all God has done for us. Eucharist means thanksgiving. Give thanks to God, for Gods hospitality towards us. “The Hospitality of God.”

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