Mary's Hospitality Is Not Idleness But Love

Lectio Divina: 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

1)    Mary’s hospitality was not dictated by laziness but by love.

Not only Martha but also Mary “did” something for Christ. In fact she has chosen the best way “to do”.

Let’s proceed in order.

The first reading and the Gospel of today’s Roman Rite show an event where hospitality is practiced:  Abraham’s way of hospitality, that I consider not too different from that one of Martha, and the way of Mary, Martha’s younger sister.

Abraham and Martha both go out of their way to be good hosts and to welcome the person, who has arrived. However the joy of the Lord’s visit becomes “exertion” for Martha and “perplexity” for Sarah, Abraham’s wife.

Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of this Father of the Faith. He earned the honor to see God in human form and to welcome Him as his guest because he had offered himself to God and had welcomed Him. “He was lifted up to Him because he believed that men couldn’t be oriented to anything else, but considered every one of them as all and all as one.”[1] The given hospitality was transformed into the desired fecundity: “I will surely return to you about this time next year and Sarah, your wife, will then have a son” (Gn 18:10). After 25 years waiting Abraham and Sarah could say: “We have blossomed as a new people and we have germinated like new and prosperous spikes”[2].

Let’s put ourselves in Martha’s shoes. She is happy because Jesus arrives in her home. Together with Jesus also Peter, James, John, even Judas and perhaps also the women who were his followers arrive. For this reason the initial smile with which she welcomes Jesus becomes a grimace of nervousness as more people enter. Martha loses her patience towards her sister Mary because she is not helping, and even loses it with the Lord.

The problem of our life is that in welcoming the other (and there is always another to welcome) we don’t let ourselves be embraced by the One that engenders and loves us. The problem, and I should say the sin, is that we keep away from the One who engenders us loving us. All the exertion, all the sadness, all the anger and the waste of energy come from the fact that, like Martha, we are defined more by the things to do for the Host than by the relationship with the Loved One who knocks at the door of our heart and not only at the door of our house.

Let’s put ourselves in Mary’s shoes now. She lives Jesus’ coming into her house not with a particular inclination, but with the dimension typical of every Christian that cares for his friendship with Christ.

What does this “contemplative” do? She sits at Jesus’ feet and listens to him. I think however that before this, she had first washed his feet. She had already done so in the house of Simon, the Pharisee, utilizing a very expensive ointment. Surely she did it also in her house for the brotherly friend who had forgiven her giving back her dignity and life, and that had his feet dusty from the journey.

Martha embodies a typical feminine attitude towards the guest (at least according to the mentality of those times) being busy setting the table, however we can see that there is already something new in this event. For us it is normal that the lady of the house welcomes the guest; it was not so at that time. The woman could not welcome the guest because the owner of the house was the man (we know that it was Lazarus’ house, her brother). The evangelist Luke insists that it was woman who welcomed Jesus. On the other hand the first person who “welcomed” the Word of God was a woman: the Virgin Mary.

Mary goes further than her sister Martha. She engages herself with the guest taking on a position that was reserved to men. Moreover in sitting at the Teacher’s feet to listen to him Mary takes on the typical position of the disciple. This is also a novelty. Rabbis didn’t accept women as followers and only men could become disciples. For Jesus it is not so. The women too are called to be listeners and disciples.

2)             The school of the Word

The disciple (from the Latin verb discere = to learn) goes to school for learning. In the school of the Word made flesh he learns that the first service to be done to God -at to all- is to listen. It is from listening not from doing that the relationship begins. When the word becomes look then there is contemplation.

Maybe in one hundred years they will recognize that the greatest revolution of modern times has been made by the tiny Mother Theresa of Calcutta. That is not for what she has done or made people do (it was – as she used to say- a small drop in the desert of the huge poverty of the world) but for the look with which, starting from the contemplation of Jesus, she has looked at men, at every man from the poorest to the most powerful. What counts is to listen to the Lord and to his words as the prophet Jeremiah did: “When I found your words, I devoured them; your words were my joy, the happiness of my heart, because I bear your name, Lord, God of hosts”  (Jer 15:16).

The Father said: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; Listen to him” (Mt 17:5, Mk 9:6; Lk 9:35): “listen” to Jesus and you will become Jesus in listening.

This is the attitude of the bride. The bride is the one that welcomes the Word that is the groom. The mission of every man is to be the bride of God, the one who listens and welcomes the Word, seed that transforms us to his image and alikeness.

Man is man because he listens and becomes the Word that he listens. If he listens to God, he becomes God. He understands God not as a concept, but as a presence that changes spiritually and physically the life and the body as it has happened to the Virgin Mary in whom the apex of humanity is represented.

Listening to God for us means to understand Him, to conceive Him, to let Him come and stay in us. Human hospitality is to let that the others dwell in us. Christian hospitality is to make the Other and the others dwell in us. I think that it is for this reason that Saint Benedict has strongly “imposed” hospitality to his monks[3].

Finally we must remember that when Jesus in a brotherly way scolds Martha, saying that she is busy for too many things, he doesn’t criticize the preparing of the meal, but the stress. He doesn’t question the generous heart of Martha, but the anxiety. The words with which Jesus answers to Martha remind us that the service must not hassle us to the point of forgetting to listen: “Martha, Martha you are anxious and worried about many things.” To enclose these words of Jesus in the perspective of the active life in the world (Martha) and of the contemplative life of the cloister (Mary) means to change them. The perspective is wider and touches two attitudes that must be part of the life of every disciple: to listen and to serve. The tension is not between listening and serving but between listening and a diverting service. Martha is so busy serving the guest that she has no time to entertain him. An old rabbi speaking of a colleague used to say: “He is so busy in speaking to God that he has forgotten that He exists”.

If we too will sit at Christ’s feet we will learn the most important thing: love. Love is not only the best part; it is the good one because it discerns the superfluous from the necessary and the fallacious from the eternal. God “acts” loving and we must “do” the same.

The consecrated Virgins are of example to us. With their dedication  they indicate to us the truth of the following biblical sentence: “I will betroth you for me forever; I will betroth you to me with justice and with judgment, with loyalty and with compassion;  I will betroth you to me with fidelity and you shall know the Lord” ( Hos 2:21-22). To the question of today’s Gospel in the Amb
rosian Rite “Who is God for me?” they answer:” He is my groom”. In this way these women renew their “yes” said on the day of their consecration: “Do you want to be consecrated to Jesus Christ, Son of God the Highest, and to acknowledge Him as your groom?” “Yes, I do want it” (Rite of the Consecration of the Virgins, n. 14).

Let’s pray: “Allow us Lord to love you and to receive as a gift You who are the Love, and give us the gift to do well so that we make of our life a praise to You” (This is one of the invocations of Monday’s Lauds of the second week).

[1] Saint Maxim the Confessor, Ep 2, page 91:400.

[2] Saint Justin, Dialogue with Trypho 119.

[3] See Rule of Saint Benedict. As a patristic reading here below I’m proposing Chapter 53 on hospitality.


Roman Rite

XVI Sunday in Ordinary Time- Year C- July 21, 2013

Gn 18:1-10a; Ps 15; 1 Col 24-28; Lk 10:38-42

Martha hosts and Mary welcomes

Ambrosian Rite

IX Sunday of Pentecost

1Sam 16:1-13; 2 Tim 2:8-13; MT 22; 41-46

Who Christ is for me?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation