The 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 17 July 2022
Lectionary Readings: Gen. 18:1-10; Ps. 15:2-5; Col. 1:24-28; Lk 10:38-42
Theme: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
The familiar saying that it is more blessed to give than to receive has been attributed to Jesus (Acts 20:35). Although it is not recounted in any of the Gospels that Jesus said these actual words, he must often have expressed the idea that lies behind them. It is a core value of the Scriptures, e.g. “Do not let your hand be stretched out to receive and closed when it is time to give.” (Sirach 4:31)
The readings for this Sunday include two of the Bible’s best-known stories about hospitality: Abraham and Sarah and Martha and Mary. In reading these stories it is well to remember that the labor of other people, whether enslaved or hired or members of the family, was a householder’s most usual ‘labor-saving’ device. Abraham calls on his wife and Martha on her sister. It should be noted that Martha does not require Mary’s help because she is preparing an absurdly elaborate meal. As L.T. Johnson writes , Martha was “overwhelmed by so much serving [because] the reason is that there was too much to do. It should be noted that the narrator indicates this as an objective fact (pollen diakonian), and not as a neurotic obsessiveness on her part.”
The generous hosts – Abraham and Sarah, Martha and Mary – in return receive gifts from their visitors. Yet these gifts are strange ones, resulting in socially awkward situations. When the elderly Sarah is told that she will give birth to a son, she cannot help but laugh. According to Jesus, for Mary to sit and listen to him rather than help her sister is the right thing to do. As Johnson’s commentary explains:
“Jesus’ response to Martha makes clear that the ‘one thing necessary’ for hospitality is attention to the guest, rather than a domestic performance. If the guest is a prophet, the appropriate response is listening to God’s word!… Jesus nicely turns the point from one of providing a service to receiving a gift: the other who comes into our space is a messenger of grace.” [Johnson, 175]
Sarah’s gift is a baby whose name, Isaac, means ‘laughter”. Martha, alone in her kitchen, might have wondered what gift her conversation with Jesus had brought to her. She had deferred to Jesus in asking him to tell Mary to help her, rather than telling Mary herself but her respectful behavior had got her nowhere – or so it seems. As Levine & Brettler observe, she “is a householder and Jesus criticizes her as he does other householders.”  It was because it was her house that she expected Jesus would do as she wished. But the usual rules, as her ancestors Abraham and Sarah could have told her, do not apply to divine guests – how else would Isaac have been possible? As they could also have told her, it may take some time before you will discover the truth of what you have been told! It is later on that Martha says to Jesus: “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” [John 11:27] We know then Martha has come to understand why Mary’s was the right choice.
For Reflection and Discussion: Think of experiences in your own life that you came to understand as gifts, although they might not have seemed so when they were given to you.
Bibliography: Gaventa, Beverly Roberts, The Acts of Apostles (Nashville TN: 2003); Johnson, Luke Timothy, The Gospel of Luke (Collegeville MN: 1991); Levine, Amy-Jill & Marc Zvi Brettler, ed., The Jewish Annotated New Testament (New York NY: 2011)
This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Anne Morton, Canada, Bat Kol Alumna: 2010