Summer is often a time in which we receive guests into our home. People often travel on vacation during the summer months and sometimes we get a notice from them that they are going to stop by for a visit. Sometimes that visit is well announced and anticipated and we are able to make plans and arrangements for their visit. Other times a visit can come with short notice; someone happens to be in town and they surprise us with a “drop in” visit. Throughout the sacred scriptures we are often told of the necessity to provide good hospitality to both friends and strangers when they come to visit us. Scripture tells us that when we receive visitors we may be receiving angels in disguise. Certainly this is what happens with Abraham and Sarah. Three strangers come by for a visit and Abraham prepares a wonderful meal for them. These three strangers are later to be revealed as angels and they have been depicted in Christian iconography as an image of the Triune God. God himself came to visit Abraham one day and left him with a beautiful blessing as he announces that after years of waiting, yearning and hoping, Sarah is going to have a child and Abraham will have an heir to the promise of God in the Covenant.
St. Benedict wrote hospitality into his Rule of Life for his monks. They are instructed to always be open to visitors and to provide for their needs. Visitors can interrupt our daily routine in life and provide an opportunity for God to do something new in our life. They call us out of ourselves and our selfish endeavors and place us in a role of service, thinking first of the needs of others. If we are open to receiving visitors and we make room for them in our homes and in our hearts they can provide a beautiful blessing for us. If they were strangers or not very well known, then they can become new friends and we can grow in our relationship with them. The time spent together enriches us and often gives us a new perspective in life. They can remind us of the blessings of family life and expand our sense of belonging to a larger family, relieving us of a sense of isolation or loneliness in life.
Sometimes visitors can become a burden on our daily tasks and routines. We are already busy and our lives are intricately planned and executed. How are we to fit in time for our visitors in an already full daily calendar? When we begin to think of ourselves and the imposition that visitors place upon our lives and the extra work that will be required of us we can become resentful of their presence. This is the situation in which we find Martha in our gospel passage today. Martha is over burdened with the demands of hospitality that have been thrust upon her. She asks a question that many hostesses have perhaps asked at one time or another, “Do you not care that I am by myself in my providing hospitality?” Martha is caught up in doing and providing and she becomes anxious in the presence of Jesus. Mary on the other hand sits down with Jesus and listens to him, enjoying his company. This is what visitors really desire, time spent together. Jesus tells Martha that she is worried about too many things and that she should take time out of her busy schedule and just enjoy some time alone with a friend.
St. Paul shares a mystery with us that would help all of us with the demands of hospitality that are placed upon us. That mystery is expressed simply as, “Christ in you.” (Col 1,27) Jesus dwells in the hearts of all of his disciples. If Christ is in us then he is also in our visitor. When we receive a stranger or a friend we are receiving Jesus Christ. St. Matthew also reminds us of this truth in his judgment story when Jesus says that, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Mt 25,40) Every encounter with a visitor in our life is an opportunity to encounter and minister to Jesus. Every act of charity draws us closer to Jesus. Jesus does care about us in our busy lives and he will reward every act of kindness that we offer to others.
In a few weeks I will be going to Kansas for vacation and I will be staying at the home of my cousin Diane. With her kind heart she has always welcomed me into her home as a member of her family. I have been visiting the Leis home for more than 23 years. Even before that, her mother, my Aunt Bert, welcomed me into her home when I was traveling with a couple of friends. She was the first one to suggest that perhaps I should consider becoming a priest one day. Our guests should not only find rest in our homes but they also should find rest in our hearts. That is the one thing needed and the one thing that will not be taken from us.