16TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle C)

Sunday's readings:
Genesis 18:1-10a
Psalm 15:2-4a, 5
Colossians 1:24-28
Luke 10:38-42

Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation). CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy. The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: Hospitality
Hospitality is a Christian form of charity. St. Benedict wrote in his Rule of Order that his monks should receive the stranger as Christ himself. We follow that rule in our Christian faith communities. We make welcome all visitors regardless of race or nationality. The inspired writer of Hebrews 13:2 warns, Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels. The First Reading and the Gospel deal with hospitality and the welcoming of the stranger who is God/Christ Himself.

In the First Reading, the appearance of Yahweh to Abraham is presented as a mystery. Three visitors appear at Abraham's tent. In the encounter, Abraham sometimes address them in the singular as one person (verse 3), and also in the plural as if they were three persons (for example in verse 4). The Church Fathers interpreted this visitation as an early revelation of the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. In the encounter, God speaks to Abraham directly, just as He spoke to Adam before his fall from grace. God brings the announcement of the fulfillment of a covenant promise made to Abraham concerning descendants. Abraham is told of a future miraculous birth of a son to his barren wife, Sarah. Abraham's hospitality foreshadows the announcement by another heavenly being of the birth of the true Son of the promise—Jesus the Messiah (Gen 18:1-15; Lk 1:26-28).

Abraham is the symbol of the righteous man who dwells in the presence of God described in the Psalm Reading. The kind of personal relationship Abraham enjoyed in God's presence is also available to the Christian. In the Second Reading, St. Paul writes that it is Christ living in the Christian that brings that Christian to perfection in Christ—even personal sufferings can intensify and perfect that relationship with Christ. Paul concludes that it is the personal invitation of Christ into our lives that gives us the hope of eternal glory.

In the Gospel Reading, Jesus enjoys the hospitality of the sisters Martha and Mary of Bethany. In the encounter, two kinds of service to the Lord are contrasted—service in love of neighbor and service in love of God. Martha's service is the customary hospitality offered to an honored guest, but her sister's service is sitting at Jesus' feet and being attentive to the Word of God. Jesus teaches the sisters that while demonstrating love of a "neighbor" is worthy, it cannot be more important than love of God expressed by hearing and being obedient to the Word. It is the spiritual work that builds a personal relationship with God and that must take precedence. When we extend our hospitality to God by inviting Him into our hearts and making Him first in our lives, then the love we express in that personal relationship will flow from us out to the world in our acts of love and mercy for our neighbors in the human family.

The First Reading Genesis 18:1-10a ~ The Visitation of the Lord to Abraham
1 The LORD [Yahweh] appeared to Abraham by the terebinth of Mamre, as he sat in the entrance of his tent, while the day was growing hot. 2 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, 3 he said: "Sir [My Lord], if I may ask you this favor, please do not go on past your servant. 4 Let some water be brought, that you may bathe your feet and then rest yourselves under the tree. 5 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 one your way." The men replied, "Very well, do as you have said." 6 Abraham hastened into the tent and told Sarah, "Quick, three measures of fine flour! Knead it and make rolls." 7 He ran to the herd, picked out a tender choice steer, and gave it to a servant, who quickly prepared it. 8 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. 9 They asked Abraham, "where is your wife, Sarah?" He replied, "There in the tent." 10a One of them said, "I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a son."
[...] = literal Hebrew translation.

When God called Abraham to come into the land of Canaan, He made a three-fold covenant with Abraham, promising him land/a kingdom, numerous descendants, and a world-wide blessing (Gen 12:1-3; 15:5, 18-19; 17:4-8; 22:15-18). Abraham has a son by a concubine, his wife's servant Hagar (Gen 16:1-4, 15), but he has no child with his wife, Sarah. The events recorded in Genesis chapter 18 took place shortly after God told Abraham that Sarah would bear a son at this time next year (Gen 17:21), and in 18:10a God will repeat that promise to Abraham: "I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a son."

1 The LORD [Yahweh] appeared to Abraham by the terebinth of Mamre, as he sat in the entrance of his tent, while the day was growing hot. 2a Looking up, Abraham saw three men standing nearby.
Abraham looked up and saw three men standing near him. After God promised Abraham all the land he could see from the height of Bethel (Gen 13:14-17), Abraham moved his tents, flocks and herds to settle at the grove of the Amorite Mamre near Hebron where he built an altar to Yahweh (Gen 13:18). Abraham was a chieftain whose wealth was in his herds and flocks of animals. Twice a year it was necessary to move his animals from pastures in the hill country to pastures in the Negev; Abraham lived the life of a pastoral semi-nomad. In this part of the narrative, Abraham was again settled at the same grove of trees near Hebron when he saw "three men" standing near him-that the "three men" were "standing near him" as he sat by his tent was the equivalent of knocking on his door. The inspired writer tells us immediately that it is Yahweh who appeared to Abraham by the terebinth trees (plural) of Mamre (18:1). This is the third mention of the "terebinth/trees of Mamre" (13:18; 14:13; 18:1) and the thirtieth time the Divine Name is used in the Abraham narrative.

... while the day was growing hot ,meaning during the hottest part of the day, three "men" approached Abraham's tent at noon time when people sought shelter from the sun and usually took the main meal of the day. Like all men whose lives are regulated by the conditions of the natural world, Abraham's year was divided by the seasons and his day by the movement of the sun: dawn, noon, the cool of the day, and sundown.

2b When he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them; and bowing to the ground, 3 he said: "Sir... literally My Lord ... Running to greet his visitors, Abraham recognized the manifestation of the Lord God Yahweh and addressed the men in the singular "My Lord" instead of in the plural "My Lords." Then the plural form is then used for the three visitors until Gen 18:10 when the singular form is reintroduced and is used continually through verse 15. Some of fathers of the Church (especially the Eastern Fathers) have seen the visitation of the three "men," one of whom is Yahweh in human form, as a manifestation of the Most Holy Trinity (The Navarre Bible: Pentateuch, page 104) present and active in the annunciation of the miraculous birth of the child who was destined to carry the "promised seed" of "the woman" (Gen 3:15; Mt 1:1-2) and whose sacrificial offering would foreshadow the sacrifice of the Redeemer-Messiah (Gen 22:2; Heb 11:11, 17-19). The famous ancient icon of "The Three Visitors" represents Abraham's visitors as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Throughout the narrative Abraham addresses the three men in both the singular, as though they were one person (as in Gen 18:3) and in the plural (as in Gen 18:4-5), as though they were three different men. One of the three is clearly identified in the singular as God the Father (Gen 18:1-2, 10, 13-15). How is it that Abraham was able to recognize he was witnessing a manifestation of God? In John 10:27 Jesus said when you walk with God and live a blameless life before the Lord, you immediately recognize Him when He calls to you: The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me.

Bowing low before the Lord, a sign of great respect, Abraham identified himself as the Lord's servant. The Genesis narrative will identify the three men as the Lord who is accompanied by two other "men" who are messengers/angels (Gen 19:1, 15). God appearing in a visible human form and accepting the hospitality of a man will be repeated in the Gospels when God the Son, fully human and fully divine, eats and drinks with saints and sinners. Because Abraham believed in God and walked in his presence and in covenant with him, the patriarch is ready to welcome a mysterious Guest into his tent. Abraham's remarkable hospitality at Mamre foreshadows the annunciation of the true Son of the promised. After that, one God had confided his plan, Abraham's heart is attuned to his Lord's compassion for men and he dares to intercede for them with bold confidence (CCC 2571).

The words in the narrative identify the quickness of Abraham's response to the visitation of his Lord (see Gen 18:1-8):

4 Abraham said: "Let some water be brought, that you [plural] may bathe your [plural] feet and then rest yourselves under the tree. 5 Now that you [plural] have come this close to your servant, let me bring you a little food that you [you] may refresh yourselves; and afterward you [plural] may go one your [plural] way."
It was the custom to provide water for guests to wash their feet; it was one of the respectful signs of hospitality. This was also the custom in the 1st century AD (Lk 7:38-44; Jn 13:5-16; 1 Tim 5:10). Abraham's concern for the comfort of the visitors is a typical depiction of Middle Eastern courtesy: washing away the dust of the journey, providing hastily baked cakes of what was probably unleavened bread loaves, milk in two forms, and roasted meat.

Notice the repetition of the number three: three visitors and three measures (seah) of flour. The use of "threes" in the narrative points to something of importance and an event that will impact salvation history; it is also for Christians the number of Trinity. The text records the flour to make the bread measured literally three seah. A seah was a measurement equivalent to two gallons or eight liters of grain-3 seah was 6 gallons/24 liters of flour for bread; it is a super abundant amount of bread for just three visitors, suggesting that this is not an ordinary visit. The visitors ate the meal outside the tent under the tree while Abraham stood nearby to attend to their needs.

9 They asked Abraham, "where is your wife, Sarah?" He replied, "There in the tent." 10a One of them said, "I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a son."
Abraham was asked "Where is your wife Sarah?"-it is a rhetorical question because God, knowing everything, of course knew that Sarah was in the tent. Keeping the covenant promise He made to Abraham in part two of the three-fold covenant, God announced to Abraham that Sarah would give birth to a son at this same time next year. The promise God made to Abraham in Genesis 15:4 as well as the covenant commitment He made in Genesis 17:16-19 has now escalated to being identified as a precise event. The miraculous birth of a son to Sarah in her old age is only one of many miraculous births in Scripture and points forward in time to a miraculous birth that will forever alter the course of human history-the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.

Responsorial Psalm 15:2-4a, 5 ~ On How to Dwell in the Lord's Presence
Response: "He who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord."

2 One who walks blamelessly and does justice; who thinks the truth in his heart and slanders not with his tongue. Response:
3 Who harms not his fellow man, nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor; 4a by whom the reprobate is despised, while he honors those who fear the LORD.
Response:
5 Who lends not his money at usury and accepts no bribe against the innocent. One who does these things shall never be disturbed.
Response:

Psalms 15 is the first in a series of entreaties that end with Psalm 24. The dominant theme in the series is the Temple and the conduct and prayers of those who go there (Ps 24:3). This psalm, attributed to David in the superscription, defines the virtues of one who seeks God's Presence-he/she must be a just person who fears God and walks blamelessly by doing what is right and just. The values and lifestyle of such a person must be the exact opposite to that of evildoers who, in their sins, have turned away from God. The full psalm lists ten requirements (verse 4b is missing from our reading) that deal with honorable and loyal conduct towards others (verses 2-5):

  1. One who walks blamelessly and does justice [blamelessly doing justice]
  2. who thinks the truth in his heart
  3. slanders not with his tongue
  4. Who harms not his fellow man
  5. nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor
  6. by whom the reprobate is despised [who disdains the wicked]
  7. honors those who fear the LORD [Yahweh]
  8. Who keeps an oath despite the cost (verse 4b missing from our reading)
  9. Who lends not his money at usury
  10. accepts no bribe against the innocent

In Scripture the number ten is one of the so-called "perfect numbers," symbolizing perfection of divine order. The ten moral requirements can be seen as the way one establishes order in governing one's life in relation to God and to other members of the human family.

5 Who lends not his money at usury and accepts no bribe against the innocent. In the Old Testament, lending money was often seen as assistance to the poor in distress and not as an investment. Making money off the poor by charging them interest was therefore forbidden (Ex 22:24; Lev 25:36-37; Dt 23:20). One who does these things shall never be disturbed... Such a person who lives in justice according to the acts of virtue listed in verses 2-5 is pleasing to the Lord; therefore, his or her life is on sure ground and that person will walk in peace with God.

The requirements listed in Psalm 15 are reflected in the command for Christians to love one's neighbor as oneself. Jesus taught that the love of God cannot be separated from the love of neighbor. Concerning Jesus' teaching, St. John will write: If anyone says, "I love God", but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 Jn 4:20-21).

The Second Reading Colossians 1:24-28 ~ The Mystery of Christ in Us
24 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, 25 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, 26 the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past. But now it has been manifested to his holy ones, 27 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. 28 It is he whom we proclaim, admonishing everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.

As you may recall from last week's second reading, St. Paul wrote to the faith community at Colossae at the urgings of their minister Epaphras to correct some false teachings that were introduced into the community (1:7-8; 2:4, 8, 16-23). Paul commends the community as a whole in 1:3-8, suggesting that even though the Colossians had been urged to accept false teachings, they were not been completely seduced into those practices. St. Paul expresses concern for them (1:9-14), and he shares some personal details about his ministry, telling them that his preaching of the truth of the Gospel of salvation has caused him persecution, suffering, and imprisonment.

However, he regards these sufferings as reflective of the suffering of Christ and a required discipline of every disciple for the sake of the Gospel. 24 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... Paul is not implying that Christ's atoning death on the Cross was in any way lacking, nor is he claiming to add anything to the redemptive value of the Cross. His point is that Jesus suffered in order to establish the reign of God, and anyone who continues Christ's work must share in this suffering as Paul associates his sufferings in his apostolate with the trials and sufferings of Jesus (see 2 Cor 1:15).

The same is true for us. Through the Sacraments and the Church, Jesus extends His life into the world. What Jesus did in His physical body, He continues to do throughout history through His mystical Body, the Church. The sufferings of the members of His Body, like St. Paul and others, contributes to the Church living out Christ's life by uniting the suffering of Christians for the sake of the Gospel to Christ's suffering for the sake of mankind's redemption.

...25 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, 26 the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past. But now it has been manifested to his holy ones, 27 to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles ...

The preaching of the Word carries out God's divine plan (the mystery of verse 26) to make Christ known first to His saints (the faithful remnant of Israel) and through them to make Christ known to the Gentiles.

28 It is he whom we proclaim, admonishing everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone perfect in Christ it is Christ in you, the hope for glory.
The word Paul teaches is the God-given wisdom concerning Christ Jesus (verse 28) whose power works through the apostle, making Jesus present in the lives of those who believe and perfecting them through the Sacraments. This perfection is especially infused in the Sacraments of Christian baptism and the Eucharist, by which the Holy Spirit endows believers with the very life of Christ and the hope of future glory.

The Gospel of Luke 10:38-42 ~ Jesus visits Martha and Mary in Bethany
38 As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. 39 She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. 40 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." 41 The Lord said to her in reply, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. 42 There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her."

In this episode two kinds of service to the Lord are contrasted-service in love of neighbor and service in love of God. The scholar who tested Jesus in Luke 10:27-28 from last week's Gospel reading correctly identified the two greatest commandments as love of God and love of neighbor. It is the same teaching Jesus gives when questioned by the Pharisees and scribes (Mt 22:34-40 and Mk 12:28-31). Here the contrast is between Martha the attentive hostess and her sister the attentive disciple.

Martha and Mary are the sisters of Lazarus. They lived in the village of Bethany on the east side of the Mt. of Olives which was located on the east side of Jerusalem across the Kidron Valley from the Temple Mount. They are disciples who made Jesus welcomed in their home. Scripture records that Jesus loved Martha, her sister Mary and their brother Lazarus (see Jn 11:5 and 12:1-2). The Gospels record three visits to the home of Martha and Mary:

  1. The visit in Luke 10:38-42 as Jesus is traveling to Jerusalem.
  2. The visit when their brother Lazarus dies in John 11:1-44. Jesus had withdrawn to the east side of the Jordan River because of the opposition of the priests and Pharisees of Jerusalem, and He returns to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead.
  3. The visit that begins Jesus' last week in Jerusalem in John 12:1-11 when He and His Apostles have a Sabbath meal with the family the day before His triumphal ride into the city of Jerusalem (Jn 12:12-15).

In this story, Martha's service is the customary physical comfort offered to an honored guest, and Mary's service is in listening to the Word of God. Martha complains to Jesus that her sister is not doing her part and is leaving her to do all the work. In verse 42 Jesus tells Martha, "There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her." The "one thing" is being ready and willing to hear the Word of the Lord. Jesus gently corrects Martha, telling her that while demonstrating love of a "neighbor" is worthy, it cannot be more important than love of God expressed by listening to the Word-Christ Himself (Jn 1:1, 14). Priority must be given to hearing the Word (Lk 8:15, 21); it is the spiritual work that must take precedence. Jesus is breaking with the conventions of His times in what He tells Martha. In saying that the better choice is hearing the Word, He is saying that a woman's place isn't always "in the kitchen;" she is equal to men in her obligation to hear and understand the Word of God.

The episode in Luke 10:38-42 contrasts two kinds of service to the Kingdom-physical and contemplative. The truth is we need both Marthas and Marys to advance the Gospel of salvation and the Kingdom of the Church. We might reflect on several questions concerning this passage: How are Marthas valuable to the Kingdom of Christ? What roles to they fill? Who are the Marys who serve the Kingdom and in what ways do the Marthas help the Marys fulfill their role? Is there a danger in getting so caught up in the Martha service/work side of ministry that the Mary spiritual side of the service/work is lost? And, would you say that you are a "Martha" or a "Mary?

Catechism References:
Genesis 18:1-10a (CCC 706, 2571)
Colossians 1:24-28
    -1:24 (CCC 307, 618, 1508)
    -1:27 (CCC 568, 772)
Luke 10:38-42 (CCC 782, 1822-23, 1889, 1970, 1974, 2074)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013