What a delightful story from the book of Genesis today; so simple and yet so profound! Abraham is sitting at the entrance of his tent; it’s hot, the hottest part of the day. In Australia he would be sitting in a chair on a shady verandah.
He looks up and sees three men standing nearby.
So far nothing too remarkable – a man sitting by his tent on a hot day looks up and sees three men. In Australia we would expect him to give a casual greeting to the visitors, ‘G’day’, but check out Abraham's reaction: As soon as he saw them he ran from the entrance of the tent to meet them and bowed to the ground.
As soon as he saw them he got up from his comfortable seat in the shade in the hottest part of the day when no one feels much like moving and ran from the entrance to the tent to meet them and bowed to the ground.
With great warmth and irresistible delicacy Abraham welcomes his visitors and begs them to stay. He minimises the trouble they will cause him and offers a little water and a little bread but then goes off to prepare loaves, meat, milk and cream – he has the bread freshly baked and chooses a calf which is fine and tender.
Abraham’s excitement as well as his eagerness to serve his guests is clearly evident. He hastened to find Sarah and told her to hurry and make loaves. Then running to the cattle he chose a calf and the servant hurried to prepare it.
Food in hand he now goes to the three men and spreads all before them. While they eat Abraham remains standing, a sign of respect as well as of readiness to spring into action should they need something more.
For all the hurrying and running there is never a sense of ‘breathlessness’ in this account. Abraham remains peaceful and in control, whether he is doing the serving or standing by as his guests dine. It is clear that Abraham considers all that he does as a welcoming of the three visitors, as an expression of his hospitality.
Perhaps this would be a good moment to move to the Gospel. Now it is Martha and Mary who receive a visit from the Lord, this time in the person of Jesus. Martha welcomes him and gets busy with the serving; Mary sits down by his feet and just listens to him speaking. It’s not long before Martha comes to the Lord, distracted and annoyed.
Perhaps you will share with me my long held conviction that one of the things disastrously wrong with us is our activism; it’s everywhere in the world and everywhere in the Church. Martha was obviously an activist and she shares the fate of all activists, she became distracted and angry.
How many of us, thinking that being a Catholic is a series of things to do rather than a person to become, follow down the same path and soon stop attending Mass? At any rate, Martha approaches, or perhaps more exactly, reproaches Jesus.
First there is a recrimination aimed at the Lord: Do you not care …? Then an attack against her sister who was leaving her to do the serving all by myself. Next there is an order, thinly disguised as a request, that the Lord should set Mary straight.
Somehow the Apostles in the sinking boat come to mind. They, too, accuse Jesus: Do you not care …? The waves were threatening to sink the little boat and they were afraid, and they wanted Jesus to be just as afraid as they were. ‘What’s wrong with you Jesus? We are going down and you don’t seem to care. What’s wrong with you?’
It’s all too often the case with people who are angry or afraid or hurt – they want the rest of us to justify their feelings by sharing them. Martha wanted the Lord to get upset and couldn’t understand why he wasn't. She wanted the Lord to correct Mary but instead she receives a correction herself.
The apostles in the boat were afraid; Martha just liked to worry and fret. Mary had learned that only one thing is necessary – the Lord – and it would not be taken from her.