We are accustomed to the term Hospitality Industry. We might say that this is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. The two words really don’t fit together. But, putting them together suggests that what we do naturally can be made into a money-making business. Therefore, we lose the sense and dignity of hospitality.
In our readings for today, the Book of Genesis and the Gospel of Luke offer us images of hospitality and give us scenarios of three ways of doing it.
Abraham almost begs the strangers who came by to accept his hospitality. He takes care of their basic comforts, seats them, and then with a great sense of urgency and excitement he rushes around getting quite a lavish feast ready. He might have had an ulterior motive for, apparently, going overboard with such a welcome. He didn’t know these strangers whom he invited to become visitors, so it would be wise to keep on their good side. Or perhaps he had some inner sense of the wisdom that holds that in entertaining the stranger, one might be entertaining angels. This was hospitality freely offered. But Abraham was promised a reward.
The Gospel of Luke offers us another glimpse of hospitality. Martha also leaves her guest (perhaps Jesus brought in quite a number that day) She’s busy on the feast too. Unlike Abraham, there’s no joy or excitement coming from her. She’s complaining of the work she is doing. If hospitality becomes such drudgery, it is not hospitality at all. It is simply a duty, or a task one perceives one should do. It doesn’t seem that Martha has chosen her role. Perhaps, she has assumed it as her duty, or by the convention of her time. Jesus doesn’t chide Martha, but offers a sympathetic comment about her over concern about many things. For Martha hospitality has become joyless work.
Mary offers hospitality also. Hers is that of listening and talking to the guest. This is an overlooked role in hospitality sometimes. It’s quite possible that Jesus visited his friends to debrief, to get away from it all and relax. Mary offers the hospitality of presence. Mary has chosen her role, putting herself right into the role of disciple. Mary has broken with the convention. She, a woman, has chosen to be disciple – one who listens to and converses with the Teacher. No one will take this role from Mary. For Mary, hospitality is being present to the guest. The needs of the guest are more than hunger, the guest needs companionship.
For too long this Gospel has been used to make division, with people taking sides for Mary or for Martha – the one up and doing, the other sitting in meditation. We have tied the statement ‘only one thing is needed’ to Mary’s choice. But that does not seem to be stated in the text. The statement is tied to Jesus’ comment that Martha is stressed about too much. The gospel of Luke was written about 80 – 90 AD. Divisions about contemplative versus active life were not a concern of the community. Issues of discipleship and service were.
The text may be asking us – have we willingly chosen to be a disciple, have we willingly chosen to serve? Are we reaching out to give hospitality freely. It would appear in this story that one sister was and the other wasn’t. If hospitality comes with a price tag, then it is not hospitality. Often that price tag is not monetary. It is the moan and complaint, the duty and the awaited recognition.
Hospitality is welcome, and welcome is a choice we make from love.
Elizabeth Ferguson OP