In today’s readings, the similarities between the Old Testament reading and the Gospel are striking. In the first reading, the Lord, in the guise of three men, appears to Abraham, and in a flurry of hospitality, Abraham invites them to wash, rest, and eat. He runs to coordinate a meal of fresh bread, meat, milk, and curds for his divine guests. Similarly, in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus enters a village, and Martha welcomes him, taking on the role of serving her special guest. However, the difference in how the two stories end is perplexing. In the first, the Lord seems to reward Abraham’s hospitality with the promise of the long-awaited child. Yet in the Gospel, Martha seems nearly reprimanded for her single-handed service: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her.” Has Jesus come, then, to tell us not to serve our guests, not to tend to weary travelers, not to fuss over our party spread? Surely not.
Instead of taking these two accounts as separate, contrasting stories, we should view them, rather, as one long narrative. That is, the Genesis account is not only a story of Abraham preparing to be with the Lord, but the Lord preparing to be with his people. He appears to Abraham not to test his hospitality, but to bring the good news of a baby and to fill Sarah’s heart with hope again. With the announcement of the coming child, God’s plan for his people’s salvation is beginning to unfold. He is a God who desires to dwell with us, and he prepares to do so for generations upon generations. When Jesus comes into Martha’s home, it is a culmination of thousands of years of preparation. God has been longing to be with us, even in our ordinary homes—especially in our ordinary homes—for centuries. The time for anxious preparation is over. He is here now, and it is he, not Martha, who has prepared the feast, laid the table, and is ready to serve, if only we will sit at his feet and listen.
Yet as mothers, we all sympathize with Martha, do we not? Who hasn’t heard that Scripture and thought, “Well, the onion needs chopping and the bread needs baking. That bowl is not going to wash itself, and the sheets on the guest bed need to be changed. Does Mary even know where the extra towels are kept?” But Jesus is clear: Mary, sitting and listening to Jesus speak, has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her. Thus, as we go about our day and begin to feel burdened by our service to others, and particularly by its lonesomeness, let us remember that Jesus is still among us, in our homes, waiting to speak to us. The Lord comes—in Ordinary Time, “as the day is growing hot”—to us to bring laughter to our hearts, as he did with Sarah, and he desires to ease our anxieties and lift our heavy burdens. Can we listen to him when he calls us by our own name, and says, “You are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing.” After all, since before the time of Abraham, he has been planning his visit with us.