Homily for 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) 22nd July 2007
(SC in the text refers to Pope Benedict's Sacramentum Caritatis)
Today’s readings present us with two images with two aspects: hospitality and listening. Hospitality provided to God, a word from God heard.
In the Genesis reading, set at the hottest part of the day, the Lord – in the form of three men – appears to Abraham by an oak tree at Mamre: a place of shelter. Abraham recognises these men as the Lord and begs Him to stay and offers hospitality:
- water to wash their feet
- shade from the heat of the sun under the tree
- food and drink for refreshment.
The three men ate, and they spoke: “I will surely return to you in the spring, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” Sarah laughed in disbelief at these words!
In the reading from Luke’s Gospel, the Lord Jesus enters the home of Martha and her sister Mary. While Martha provides hospitality, Mary listens to the words of Jesus. Martha, we are told, is distracted with all the serving. The word “distract” comes from the Latin “detrahere”, to pull apart, pull to pieces. You could say that Martha was at her wits’ end with all the serving. Mary, on the other hand, was sitting at the Lord’s feet and listening. She gave her full attention to the guest. Her quiet devotion displayed greater reverence for Jesus than Martha’s anxious toil.
We should not discount Martha’s role too quickly: she prepares food for the Lord – who had probably not come alone but with his apostles. He may even have come unannounced, and in keeping with the renowned hospitable nature of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern people, she set about getting food ready. Jesus, after all, did have a body that needed feeding. God chose to experience hunger and thirst, just like the rest of mankind and Martha sought to satisfy the Lord’s hunger and thirst and that of his followers.
But Jesus’ real hunger and thirst is not physical, rather is it spiritual.
In St John’s Gospel we read how Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well of Sichar, also at the hottest part of the day: “Give me a drink.” When his disciples found him talking with the woman they said “Rabbi, eat.” But he replied: “I have food to eat of which you do not know... My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work” (Jn 4) Later, on the Cross, Jesus would exclaim: “I thirst.”
What satisfies Jesus is the bread of the Father’s will; on the Cross he thirsted for the last drops remaining of the cup of suffering that could not pass him by; through the fulfilment of his Father’s will and the suffering of the Cross, the Lord Jesus would gain the salvation of the world. And in the house of Martha as at the well at Sichar, Jesus’ true hunger and thirst was for a soul who would come to him and be fed by him. This hungry and thirsty man comes not to be fed but to feed. It is Jesus who is feeding Mary: on His Word, on Truth, on His very Self: “I am the … Truth…”, and by feeding on Jesus Himself, Mary is feeding on the Bread of Life: “I am the bread come down from heaven”, said Jesus, a bread that nourishes and never diminishes.
The “better part” that Mary had chosen will never be taken from her, Jesus says. Martha’s role – service of the body – can only last as long as the body is there to be fed. Jesus would one day depart this world and return to His Father, yet he remains in the Church, in His Spirit, in His word proclaimed to be listened to and in the Eucharist to be our food. Death would overtake both Martha and Mary. Martha’s distraction with serving would be no more, but Mary’s contemplation of Christ would be perfected and continue for eternity in heaven.
Consequences for us:
1. Before being ‘doers’ we must be ‘hearers’. Before a police operation, there is a briefing to ensure everyone knows and understands his role in the operation. One error by one person could jeopardise the whole mission. To be good disciples, we must first be sure that we understand the Lord’s grand plan, his design.
2. Therefore, priority should be given to prayer in our lives: time for daily prayer, time in the presence of the Lord – at home and, if possible, before the Blessed Sacrament.
3. At Mass: to ensure we seek recollection – the opposite of distraction: putting together what has, perhaps, been pulled apart. The Mass consists of two principal parts: the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the Eucharist. There is a fundamental unity between these:
“From listening to the word of God, faith is born or strengthened; in the Eucharist, the Word made flesh gives himself to us as our spiritual food… From the two tables of the word of God and the Body of Christ, the Church receives and gives to the faithful the bread of life.” (Sacramentum caritatis 44)
4. “The Liturgy of the Word (must) always be carefully prepared and celebrated.” “Every effort (must) be made to ensure that the … proclamation of the word of God is entrusted to well-prepared readers.” This means that readers must always ensure they are well prepared: never reading without first having read over the text and, if possible, meditating upon it, to know already the words on which the Lord wishes to feed his people. You know what it’s like in a restaurant: you see something on the menu and you ask the waiter/waitress what a particular item is, and they have to go and ask the chef. They haven’t familiarised themselves with the menu. A reader must know what he/she is going to be serving up to God’s people before embarking on his/her ministry.
“Let us never forget that ‘when the Sacred Scriptures are read in the Church, God himself speaks to his people, and Christ, present in his own word, proclaims the Gospel… The word we proclaim and accept is the Word made flesh.” (SC 45)
In his word, Christ is present in our midst. He “does not speak in the past, but in the present.”
Our icon of the Hospitality of Abraham is really an icon of the Blessed Trinity. Both the Son and Holy Spirit are gazing towards the Father and he to them. As they spoke a word of promise to Abraham and as Jesus spoke to Mary and Martha, so we have heard them in the Scriptures and they now invite us to the table of the Eucharist and to be fed with the Body of Christ for whom we truly hunger and thirst.