Homily: Sunday 21 July
Sunday 21 July 2019
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli
About 10 years before she died, my brothers and I banned our mother from the kitchen at Christmas time. As the family had grown, and as she had aged, the days when mum could cope with the old-style roast Christmas lunch with all the trimmings was well beyond her. She’s be stuck in the kitchen trying to keep it all going, while the rest of the family got on with the celebrating in the family room. In the end, it just made mum miserable – with a constant refrain afterwards of “I never got to speak with anyone!” So, we banned her from the kitchen and replaced the roast turkey and plum pudding with bring-your-own dishes.
Looking back, we all think mum had gotten herself into a bit of a rut about it all. Her deeply motherly instincts of responsibility for the care and hospitality at home had overridden any sense of delight and joy she might have had from family gatherings. She had her duties to perform, come what may, while all we wanted was for her to have a bit of enjoyment. Rather than being attentive to those who had come, mum would go into a kind of automatic cooking mode. The honour of hospitality had been replaced with the determination of duty.
The first time Jesus came to eat at the home of his friends from Bethany – Martha, Mary and Lazarus – the question of what good hospitality is loomed large. Matha, as we just heard, was certainly active about making for her guest the best meal she could. But this sense of wanting to honour her guest morphed into a anxiety and concern that was – to be honest – something of a self-preoccupation and sibling resentment at Mary’s more laid back manner with Jesus.
Our instinct might naturally be to defend poor Martha. (That was certainly Mum’s rather strong take on this story!) But Jesus does not do this. Instead, he sides with Mary, and calls out Martha’s intemperate behaviour in asking the guest to intervene in a family rivalry.
I think this gospel story can be a little over-spiritualised at times. This occurs when Martha is portrayed as the lesser active disciple, over against Mary’s greater contemplative discipleship. Perhaps there is something there, but first and foremost this is a story of the meaning of gospel hospitality. At the heart of being hospitable is attentiveness to the one who is welcomed. We are to be hospitable to someone, which calls for being attentive to who that person is, and what might make for their good.
Jesus had come into the home of Martha and Mary as a prophet, bring to them the good news of the closeness of God’s kingdom. Martha went into domestic mode: she had a guest and she knew what to do when you have a guest. But in so acting, Martha was not necessarily attentive to Jesus, as Jesus. Mary, on the other hand, got the difference. Jesus, the prophet, was with them this day, and to be hospitable to a prophet would mean being attentive to what he would want to say to them. Gospel hospitality is not measured by one’s performance of duty, but by one’s attentiveness to the other person.
God is the divine host. The Lord cannot but be attentive in love for whomever has come before him. Time and again Jesus showed this with his own welcome of people into his life, being attentive to their circumstances and tender to their need. Jesus wants to come close to you personally, his guest at the table. Welcome the hospitality he is offering you today.
(PS: My brothers and I weren’t entirely cruel to our Mother. We didn’t actually ban her from her own kitchen; we simply re-located Christmas dinner to each other’s home!)