Today we hear instances of hospitality in our scriptural presentations. Abraham entertains three gentlemen passing by his tent door, and Martha/Mary provide care and attention to their guest, Jesus. Hospitality is a familiar practice for most of us. We appreciate the attention it receives in the day’s biblical readings.
A promising facet of these hospitality passages, possibly overlooked, is the way revelation is embedded in these stories. The Genesis account initially mentions ‘God’ (the Lord) as the visitor, only to quickly re-phrase the description of the travelers as "three men". Already we suspect something is going on here. While we may marvel at the casual way these visitors while away the better part of a day waiting for Sarah and Abraham to serve up a meal, we note that one of them, at least, promises to return (in about a year, apparently a frequent flyer) when Sarah will have a child. Now this is a revelation. But, as a revelation, is it information coming down from above, or is it an uncovering of something going on here below, among us?
And Luke’s account of Jesus’ visit to the home of Martha and Mary is also brought to our attention today. Again, this event centers around a meal, though, unlike the Genesis story above, it seems to be mainly the concern of just one sister (Martha) rather than of the other (Mary). And Martha seems to come out on the short end of the stick here. Perhaps. But she plays a part in elaborating the revelation underway here ("the need of only one thing"): what really matters is the significance of the time and attention paid to Jesus, or any guest, suggesting a possibly improved protocol for dealing with guests: serve sandwiches so as to have more time to host and enjoy your guests. Again, revelation appears here as uncovering the significance of what we are about.
Paul too, as we hear his message to the Colossian church today, suggests that revelation is often embedded in what is going on in our lives, as much as it is a message from above. Does he not use his own experience of " my sufferings for your sake" as revealing "what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ"? Paul proceeds to expose the implications of what is happening in his own body, as the locus of revelation unfolding right among us, rather than from elsewhere. He further makes the intriguing remark about "the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past" to suggest that the church in Colossae is to play its part in the unfolding panorama of this mystery enveloping the Gentiles, that "Christ [is] in you, the hope for glory." Revelation is a process in which we all participate.
This was surely good news to the Colossians who otherwise might have been overly concerned for Paul, given his own role in this process, look the worse for wear as a consequence. And it should be good news for us, as we realize that we too are active participants in the revelation process, not just passive recipients of it. Whether it’s by the hospitality we provide or the sufferings we undergo, we have assurance that we play a role in revealing God’s designs and program for this world of ours. And we note the obvious gospel focus on Mary as a key player in the revelation that by sitting beside the Lord at his feet and listening to him speak, we help reveal that attention to Jesus in prayer is central to God’s emergence among us.
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.