16th Sunday in Ordinary Time Reflection by Father Rex Pillai

Father Rex Pillai

In Greek mythology there is a story about the father of all gods, Zeus, who once visited the earth with his son, Hermes. They disguised themselves as weary travelers and knocked on many doors in their search for shelter but only to be ignored until they came to a small cottage in which an old couple welcomed them and offered them hospitality. But as the wine was drunk it renewed itself in the pitcher, and the old couple were struck with terror when they realized they were entertaining gods.

The story of a god who comes among his people and is disguised as a traveler is one which perhaps appears in many religious traditions. In the imagery of the Book of Genesis, we see how God walks and talks and eats with his chosen people. In today’s First Reading we hear how Abraham entertains three strangers by offering them the warmth of Bedouin hospitality. In welcoming them Abraham is really welcoming God himself. By depicting God in human form the writer of Genesis presents in a simple way how God is involved in the life and struggles of his people. This God stays involved in Jesus as we see him visiting people, talking with them, and eating with them. However, in the case of Jesus, it is not just imagery. Jesus is not disguised as a human being; he is a human being.

In telling the story of Jesus’ visit to his friends, the evangelist Luke underscores the importance of communicating God’s presence. In response to Jesus’ presence, Martha becomes fully engaged in preparing a meal while Mary becomes fully engaged in listening to Jesus. And Jesus tells Martha that Mary has chosen the better part. But does that mean what Martha did for Jesus was unacceptable? Jesus would certainly appreciate Martha’s generosity in meeting his very human need for food with traditional hospitality. To be a disciple of Jesus is to respond with a generous heart to people in need of the basic necessities of life.

However, Jesus was also aware of a deeper hunger in people: the hunger for a “personal encounter.” It is the hunger to be in personal communion with another in mutual self-giving. We experience this self-giving love in our relationships with one another, but ultimately, only in a personal relationship with Christ. This self-giving love is communicated in how we make ourselves present to others. Being present is to make space for another in your soul, for the person and the spirit of another, to be who they really are for you to admire, respect, love, and accept with hospitality.

How does all this play out in our daily lives? Let us look at the season that we are in. It is summer, and for most of us it is vacation time. Vacation is a time when we are supposed to slow the pace down, change our daily routines and take a mental break from work. It is time to say and do something new and different, but that is easier said than done. I remember a cartoon from “The New Yorker” magazine. It depicted a family of four on vacation enjoying time on the beach. The father is at his laptop, the mother is on her cell phone, the son is playing a handheld electronic game, while the daughter is listening to music coming in through her headphones. A family vacation of four disconnected individuals, who squander the opportunity for personal encounter by doing nothing new and exciting.

We need to make our time away and home a time to encounter one another. When that happens there can be personal and spiritual growth. In other words, try to show some hospitality to yourself, which can be life-giving. When we are able to do that, we know that we too have chosen the better part.