FIRST READING (Lord, do not go on past your servant.)
A reading from the Book of Genesis (18:1-10a)
The Lord appeared to Abraham by the terebinth of Mamre, as he sat in the entrance of his tent, while the day was growing hot. Looking up, Abraham saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them; and bowing to the ground, he said: “Sir, if I may ask you this favor, please do not go on past your servant. Let some water be brought, that you may bathe your feet, and then rest yourselves under the tree. Now that you have come this close to your servant, let me bring you a little food, that you may refresh yourselves; and afterward you may go on your way.” The men replied, “Very well, do as you have said.”
Abraham hastened into the tent and told Sarah, “Quick, three measures of fine flour! Knead it and make rolls.” He ran to the herd, picked out a tender, choice steer, and gave it to a servant, who quickly prepared it. Then Abraham got some curds and milk, as well as the steer that had been prepared, and set these before the three men; and he waited on them under the tree while they ate.
They asked Abraham, “Where is your wife Sarah?” He replied, “There in the tent.” One of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a son.” —The Word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.
RESPONSORIAL PSALM (15:2-3, 3-4, 5)
R. He who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord. (Ps 15:1a)
One who walks blamelessly and does justice; who thinks the truth in his heart and slanders not with his tongue. (R)
Who harms not his fellow man, nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor; by whom the reprobate is despised, while he honors those who fear the Lord. (R)
Who lends not his money at usury and accepts no bribe against the innocent. One who does these things shall never be disturbed. (R)
SECOND READING (The mystery hidden from ages has now been manifested to his holy ones.)
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Colossians (1:24-28)
Brothers and sisters: Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church, of which I am a minister in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the word of God, the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past. But now it has been manifested to his holy ones, to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; it is Christ in you, the hope for glory. It is he whom we proclaim, admonishing everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. —The Word of the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.
GOSPEL ACCLAMATION (Cf. Lk 8:15)
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed are they who have kept the word with a generous heart and yield a harvest through perseverance. (R)
GOSPEL (Martha welcomed him. Mary has chosen the better part.)
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke (10:38-42)
Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” —The Gospel of the Lord.
R. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.
The art and protocol of hospitality”
For many years, most of us in Hong Kong used the days of July to escape the heat and humidity here and take a vacation. Of course, that habit was broken some two-plus years ago but if we think back, whenever we traveled on vacation, we were often dependent on the hospitality of others. We could stay with other family and friends, but more and more today most travelers have to pay for hospitality. We learn that the quality of those welcoming us, the quality of the hospitality, either makes the stay more enjoyable, or – in some cases – makes the vacation something we want to get away from quickly to return to our own home. Hospitality – good hospitality – means that our hosts made us feel like we are “at home.” There is a Spanish phrase, “Mi casa es su casa.” My house is your house! When we feel like we are at home, we want to stay!
In cultures such as the one described in our first reading from Genesis, hospitality is more than a point of good manners or good business; it is essential for survival. In the ancient world, travelers were often vulnerable to the climate and topography of an area not their own, as well as to the inhabitants of the place. Every stranger was a potential enemy. The traveler might be a thief, a murderer, a spy sent ahead to reconnoiter the situation. People had to always be on their guard. And travelers never really knew how others would receive them. They could be robbed by their host, captured and enslaved, or even put to death. In order to guarantee protection on all sides, a certain protocol of hospitality had to be presumed and observed. The host was expected to treat all travelers as guests, not as potential enemies. Such treatment was meant to neutralize any threat to the household. And the traveler was meant to act as a guest rather than as a threat, accepting the generosity of the host for necessary food, drink, and shelter. Such hospitality was a temporary arrangement, but it assured everyone of a certain degree of safety.
In today’s reading, Abraham rushes to greet three strangers who have come from the desert, thus initiating the protocol. He attends to their immediate needs, demonstrating his openness to them and expecting their kind response. But there is something unique about this story. The strangers who approach Abraham’s tent are not ordinary travelers. This section of the broader biblical story doesn’t really tell us “who” the visitors are, but it does tell us that one of them foretells the birth of a son to Abraham and Sarah. Who could possibly have such knowledge? Someone surely is acting like a messenger of God. The point of this story is captured in a passage from the Letter to the Hebrews: “Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels” (Heb. 13:2).
We have another example of hospitality in the Gospel story. Martha is the one who welcomed Jesus, which means that she was probably the householder, responsible for showing hospitality – which she certainly did. Mary, on the other hand, entertained the guest. Martha becomes indignant with Mary for not helping her. Often commentators state that this is a sign of Martha’s peevishness. But here, we see that Martha is concerned about service – in Greek, diakonia, a word means a sort of ministry in the early Christian community. In other words, Martha is a faithful disciple demonstrating service through hospitality.
Mary is seated at the feet of Jesus, the customary place for a disciple, and she is “listening to his words,” a technical phrase which is used to describe the fundamental proclamation of the good news or instruction that flows from it. Mary too is a faithful disciple.
But how can both sisters be considered faithful disciples while one of them is said to have chosen “the better part”? As we find often in the teachings of Jesus, in this story human priorities seem to be turned upside down. Jesus accepts the hospitality offered by Martha – he never criticizes her for what she is extending to him welcoming him to her home. It is only when she seems to insist that her sister also practice the same kind of discipleship through diakonia -as she does- that Jesus now addresses her. It is here that he insists that there is something even more important than hospitality or any other form of service. It is a commitment to HIM. Jesus is not saying that diakonia is not important – it is good and commendable. But attending to HIM is considered “the better part.”
What do today’s readings have to say to us today? Most of us never have to be dependent on hospitality for survival. Some of us may also feel that Martha’s complaint about Mary is justified.
We are all called to be hospitable or to be open to others, especially the stranger. We are called to be open with our homes or with goods, but most especially with ourselves. This is at the heart of Christian service or diakonia. But this same openness should spring from our commitment to Jesus, not as simply a sense of duty or as a way of getting self-satisfaction for our good acts. As we all know, sometimes service to others can sometimes flow from selfish motives. But when we are truly committed to Jesus, it will make little difference whether we serve like Martha did or sit in rapt attention at the feet of Jesus like Mary. Either way, we are doing God’s will for us.
Celebrant: Christ makes a promise’ “Ask, and it will be given to.” Let us come to our heavenly Father with the trust and confidence of the prayer our Lord taught us.
READER: That a deepening of prayer and spirituality may spread throughout the Church, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
READER: The authorities in national economic planning and industry may turn to the wisdom of the father who gives to each of us our daily bread, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
READER: That people caught in unlawful and sinful ways may seek forgiveness, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
READER: That each of us persist in prayer, no matter how discouraged we might find ourselves, and also continue to pray for the needs of those around us, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
READER: [SMC only: For the deceased members of the Tsoi and Edwards families, and] For all those who are in need of our prayers today, especially the sick and suffering, and for deeper respect and understanding among us here, (Pause) LET US PRAY TO THE LORD.
CELEBRANT: Lord, with Mary at Bethany we open wide our ears to hear your word; with Martha, we open wide our hands to do your work. Let our prayers today center our lives on your Son, Jesus Christ, who is Lord, for ever and ever. (all) AMEN.