Meals with the Lord — 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

Our first reading from Genesis recalls Abraham at a meal with the Lord. In the story immediately preceding this one, God had renewed his covenant with him. The Lord changed his name from Abram to Abraham, which means “father of a multitude,” and indeed, today more than two billion Christians around the world call Abraham our father in faith. A covenant bond is an alliance which transforms unrelated persons into family. In the ancient world, nations and peoples would form covenants, declaring themselves brothers. Today we rightly call marriage a covenant. And God has established many covenants between himself and members of the human race through salvation history. Something that family members do is eat together. Sharing a meal signifies communion and relationship with each other. Today, after renewing his covenant with Abraham, the Lord visits him for a meal.

Genesis says “the LORD appeared to Abraham,” but, “Looking up, Abraham saw three men standing nearby.” Like when God said at Creation, “Let US make man in OUR image,” Christians detect signs here of the presence of the Holy Trinity. There’s an interesting alternation of singulars and plurals in their dialogue. Abraham says, “Sir, if I may ask you (singular) this favor, please do not go on past your servant….” Abraham offers THEM a meal and THEY reply, “Very well, do as you have said.” Later THEY ask him, “Where is your wife Sarah,” and then ONE of them declares, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a son.” Genesis does go on to call two of these three visitors “angels” but in Hebrew and Greek this word angel means “messenger or representative.” And who are the greatest representatives and messengers of God the Father but God the Son and God the Holy Spirit? Whatever the mystery that was actually at play here, Abraham serves a meal with the Lord and is blessed in the encounter.

In today’s Gospel, the Lord God visits Martha in the person of Jesus Christ. She welcomes him and sets about serving him with food and drink. Her sister, Mary, sits beside the feet of the Lord listening to him speak. And Martha, burdened with much serving, comes to him and says, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” “Martha, Martha,” Jesus replies, “you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing.” Notice how Jesus repeats her name, something seen only a handful of times in the New Testament. Jesus laments over “Jerusalem, Jerusalem” before his Passion, he admonishes “Simon, Simon” at the Last Supper, he cries out “Eloi, Eloi / My God, My God” on the Cross, and he calls out to “Saul, Saul” on the road to Damascus. That’s some extraordinary company she shares. Clearly, Martha matters a great deal to Jesus.

So what was Martha doing wrong? Is it because she was working so hard to serve the Lord a meal? Well, Abraham hastened and hustled to serve too; he ran to pick out a choice steer, get curds and milk, and set these before his guests. Abraham even got others to help him work; telling his wife to make some bread rolls and directing his servant to prepare the meat. The problem wasn’t Martha’s work. It was her mindset, her outlook. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.” Why was Martha anxious and worried? Anxiety and worry come from fear. What was she afraid of? Was she afraid of failing? Was she afraid of what others might think? Was she afraid of disappointing the Lord? What are you afraid of? What drives your anxiety and worries? Do you think Jesus will abandon you if things go wrong, if things are less than perfect?

Jesus says, “There is need of only one thing.” What is that one thing? Mary apparently had it sitting at his feet, listening to him teach. She was sharing personal communion with him and receiving from him. And later, when Mary got up to do whatever task came next, I bet that peace remained with her. “Mary has chosen the better part,” Jesus says, “and it will not be taken from her.” If you have gravely sinned, then return to Jesus, go back to confession, and come into the state of grace. And when in the state of grace stop letting yourself get in the way of connecting with Jesus and receiving and enjoying his good pleasure in you. Rest with him, rest in him, even as you work hard for him.

Fifty years ago this weekend, mankind took its first steps on the surface of the Moon. The astronauts journeyed from Earth more than 200,000 miles, through the extreme temperatures of an airless void, to achieve a modern marvel watched and celebrated around the world. But a still greater journey is made, a more incredible wonder is accomplished, when Jesus Christ comes from Heaven to this altar and invites you and me (who remain far from perfect) to share this covenant meal with him.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: