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Saturday, 16 July 2016

Reflection/Homily: Sixteenth (16th) Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

Theme: Between doing what is wanted and what is needed

In Genesis 17, we read that God appeared to Abram and changed his name to Abraham. Abram means venerated father and Abraham means father of multitude. God went ahead to make a covenant with him marked by the obligation to circumcise all men children. God also changed the name of his wife from Sarai to Sarah and promised to give her a son. How that would happen, Abraham didn’t know. However, he went ahead to assume the responsibilities of his new name as father of multitude. He became a father to all those around him, caring for them as he would care for his own biological son. It is against this background that we can understand what motivated his hospitality to the three men in the first reading (Gen. 18:1-10).

Abraham was resting near the Oak of Mamre when he looked up and saw three men in front of him. Perhaps, they looked tired being on a long journey. Abraham, being the father of multitude quickly invited them for a meal. He ordered his wife Sarah to bake three cakes and his servant to prepare a fine tender calf. The men ate and at the end, declared that Sarah would definitely have a son by that time the next year. Abraham was visited by God and he offered them the best he could afford. In his culture, it was customary to offer bread to visitors but Abraham offered them cake instead. He also gave them meat, milk and butter. Because in his hospitality he gave God his best, in return, God gave him the best reward; the promise of a son.

The hospitality of Abraham is perhaps what is reflected in the attitude of Martha in the Gospel reading (Luke 10:38-42). From the return of the 72, Jesus and his disciples had been on a long journey in which he was encountered by the teacher of the law whom he told the parable of the Good Samaritan. So it was not out of place for Martha to worry about serving their guests. When Mary, Martha’s sister did not show any interest in serving their guests, Martha had to bring the matter to Jesus. In his reply, Jesus rebuked Martha for being worried about many things when only one thing was necessary. He praised Mary for choosing the better part which no one will take away from her.

Why was Abraham rewarded for his hospitality and Martha rebuked for her own hospitality? The answer lies in understanding the “need” of the other and being able to distinguish it from the “wants” of the other. The three men needed food and rest before they could continue their long mission and Abraham understood this need. Jesus perhaps wanted some food but he needed the presence of Mary and Martha to be with him and listen to him. Mary understood this need but Martha didn’t. Mary represents those who recognize the need to be at the feet of Jesus listening to him and drawing wisdom and strength from him while Martha represents those who are always busy doing those things God wants them to do. Which of them is better? None is good in isolation of the other. Jesus needs our presence, we need to be with him as well as do those things he wants. In doing the work of God, we don’t have to neglect the God of work. We need to find time to listen to Jesus, there, he will direct us exactly on how to do the work he wants and do it effectively.

Beloved friends, the gospel message today challenges us to re-evaluate our scale of preference to give priority to the one thing God needs from us; being with him and listening to him, there we will find strength to do other things He wants from us. It also challenges us to look around and respond to people around us according to their needs first before their wants. When we encounter the hungry, though they may want words of hope, they need food. The sick may want prayers but they need medical attention. The defenseless in the society may want words of exhortation but they need protection. The Church may want you to donate generously to church projects but they need you to be a hearer and doer of the Word of God. At the end, it is both necessary to do what is needed and what is wanted because we need to integrate the qualities of Mary and Martha in our lives. Doing this may entail suffering but like St. Paul in the 2nd reading (Col. 1:24-28), we have to be happy even when we have to suffer in the course of doing what Jesus requests of us. God loves you. Happy Sunday.

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