Commentary, July 17, 2022, Pentecost 6

I. Theme – Surprises related to hospitality and the hidden presence of God.

“Christ in the Home of Mary and Martha” – Vermeer (1655)

The lectionary readings are here  or individually: 

First Reading – Genesis 18:1-10a
Psalm – Psalm 15
Epistle – Colossians 1:15-28
Gospel – Luke 10:38-42 

Today’s readings remind us of the surprises related to hospitality and the hidden presence of God. In Genesis , Abraham receives three heavenly visitors who speak of the imminent birth of Sarah’s son. Paul describes the mystery of reconciliation with God and its implications for the Church. Jesus visits the home of Mary and Martha and reminds us of the importance of paying attention to God’s presence and words.

An extraordinary message runs through today’s scriptures. The theme is best expressed in the question put to Abraham: “Is anything too wonderful for the lord?”

Sarah laughed at the promise that she would bear a child in her old age; thus the name of this son of promise was given before his conception. It means “He will laugh”! The divine communication surrounding the birth of Isaac gives us the delightful feeling that God loves to surprise people. Isaac’s very name seems to convey that God’s joy in fulfilling the promise to Abraham would ring through the universe forever. In this way the messianic line was established by God’s miraculous power.

The scripture readings contain another miracle. The question in verse 1 of the psalm is not found in today’s reading, but it prompts the response contained there: “Who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?” The psalmist answers by saying that only those who lead a blameless life are entitled to abide with God. If this were the only message we had, we might despair, for not one of us would qualify. But if we leap from the psalm to Colossians, the “hope of glory” is electrifying news. Miracle of miracles—Christ dwells mysteriously within us. Through him we stand holy and blameless before God. We can now abide upon God’s holy hill.

Christ for us and Christ in us is a mystery we can never fully understand. Better we stand in humble awe and gratitude than to try to analyze God’s doings. It is enough to know that God’s steadfast love and mercy shine in God’s word and deeds.

The gospel passage continues the line of thought that there are moments when the most important thing we can do is immerse ourselves in the wonder and glory of God’s self-revelation and to enjoy abiding with God. “There is need of only one thing” for God to work miracles in our lives.

It would be wrong to over-generalize specific occasions in scripture. It is possible that the next time Jesus visited that household, Mary served while Martha sat at his feet and Jesus chopped the vegetables. The point is that we must be attuned to the lord’s visit in our own household. We need to strike a balance between serving and simply enjoying the lord’s presence in quiet attentiveness to God alone.

Today’s readings abound in possibilities, including the possibility that we will suffer serious consequences if we deviate from God’s vision. Openness to God’s vision opens us to lively and transformative energies and contributes to the healing the world. Closing off to God’s vision dilutes and weakens the divine energy available to us. We may consider ourselves spiritual, religious, or both but be heading away from God’s vision for our lives and our world.

II. Summary

First Reading –  Genesis 18:1-10a

Our second series is about God’s covenant and the ways God upholds the covenant, even when human beings do not

Today’s reading is both an epiphany story—an account of the lord’s appearance to Abraham—and an annunciation story—a proclamation of the coming birth, contrary to all human expectation, of a significant person. The precise identity of the “three men” is not clear; that is, whether all three are angels representing the lord in earthly manifestation (hence the shift from plural to singular in vv. 1, 13) or whether one is indeed the lord and the other two are attendants (18:22, 19:1).

Abraham’s reception of these sudden guests illustrates the hospitality of a nomadic society. It is through their hospitality and compassion that God’s covenant is made, the promise to Abraham and Sarah kept. We uphold the covenant with God made so long ago when we show hospitality and kindness to the strangers among us, for God has shown hospitality to us in the giving of this world, and kindness throughout the generations.

The detailing of Abraham’s obsequious courtesies are meant subtly to give hearers two important notions about the grand status of the patriarch. He was wealthy enough to play the very generous host with the best of his contemporaries, and he was spiritually keen, sensing that his visitors were disguised angels. His life was imperfect, and he needed God, of course; his protracted childlessness is a constant reminder of that. Thus the visitor’s prediction that Sarah would have a son within the year is really the point of this story

The lord then renews the promise of many descendants (12:2, 13:15f), now specifying the birth of a son (15:1-6) to Sarah (17:15-21) in the spring (v. 10). As Abraham has typified the natural virtue of hospitality, so he also typifies the theological virtue of trust in the lord’s promise. The meaning of Isaac’s name is here explained by Sarah’s incredulous laugh.

Where is Sarah? She is the key here, for even in the midst of the duties and hiddenness assigned to her sex, she will be the bearer of the promise and the wonder. In the final verse of the reading, one of them (are there two traditions here) indicates a return at some future time, and a promise of a future son. This announcement is made to the man, not the woman, and yet it is the woman who will share the culture and the traditions of her lineage with her child.

Psalm –  Psalm 15   

Psalm 15 is a short song of praise, reminding those who are faithful that God is their strength and stands by them. They shall not be moved. To the faithful, God’s presence is with us—we do not need to go to a sacred location—God’s tent is over us, God’s presence is with us, when we are faithful and trust that God is with us.

This psalm presents a brief entrance rite for someone desiring to enter the temple for worship. The pilgrim’s question about who can enter (v. 1) receives a response from the temple personnel describing the attitudes and behavior required for worship. Regardless of the circumstance or time certain standards are invoked: blameless life, right doing (justice), and honesty.This portrait of an ideal worshipper can still act as a guideline for our approach to the altar of the lord today.

Epistle-  Colossians 1:15-28

Paul strongly presents the supremacy of Christ over the universe and in the Church (vv. 15-20). Then he applies the meaning of Christ’s cosmic victory specifically to his audience. The purpose of Christ’s death is to reconcile every person to God. . Christ is the principle of creativity, novelty, and evolution. But the ‘indicative’ description of what God has done for humans in Christ is inescapably joined to the ‘imperative’ discussion of what humans are to do in response.

The situation in Colossians is hinted at here – ” And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him.” The church at Colossae may have adopted the notion of the “elemental spirits” and their role in daily life. The author condemns such influence lifting up Christ as the chief point of creation

Paul’s teachings are primarily counter-cultural to the empire (Romans 8:38-39 for example shows that nothing can separate us from God’s love, not powers or rulers or height or depth—seemingly counter-empire than this passage). Still, this passage suggests that Christ came to make peace with all, creation, God and humanity, and it is a beautiful image of Christ that was probably an early church hymn.

The theme of rejoicing in suffering is very Pauline (Romans 5:3; 2 Corinthians 11:30, 12:9; Philippians 2:17, 3:7-10). “What is lacking” may be the manifestation elsewhere, especially among the Colossians, of the suffering of the cross in the present life of the Church.

Paul reminds them of a common theme of the early Christian preaching. The “mystery” of God’s purpose, formerly hidden, is now revealed in Christ. It is revealed in history’s recent events, including Paul’s own ministry. The purpose of this revelation is that everyone may become “mature,” literally whole, complete or perfect, in Christ. This was a term used in the Greco-Roman world for those initiated into the mystery cults or those who through self-discipline and study of wisdom had reached advanced levels of insight. Paul uses the word to emphasize that there is no special caste or elite in Christianity but the Christian mystery is Christ’s abiding presence in the community, (the “you” is plural).

The plan calls for Christ to be revealed to the Gentiles and for them to accept Christ into themselves as their hope of glory. Paul’s contribution, further specified, is to admonish and teach everyone, so to prepare them to be offered more perfectly to God.

Gospel –  Luke 10:38-42 

The story about Martha and Mary is the second in the section on the characteristics of the disciple (10:25–11:13). As the story of the Good Samaritan showed how the disciple should act to the neighbor, so today’s story shows how the disciple should relate to Jesus. Also similar to last week it’s about “seeing and not seeing.” It is not only those who come from a distance (the lawyer) who have difficulty seeing who and what Jesus is, but it is also those intimate with him, Mary and Martha, who may have the same difficulty

The story has links to the first lesson which is about hospitality. Luke takes it a step farther and remembers and emphasizes things Jesus did that defied the customs and expectations of his people.

The story is almost an enacted parable. Martha (whose name is the Aramaic word for “mistress of a household”) receives Jesus as her guest, and undertakes the duties of hospitality. Her sister Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, in the traditional position of a rabbi’s disciple (Acts 22:3), a shocking place for a woman to be.

Sometimes we simplify this story down to how Martha was distracted and Mary was not. Sometimes we assume that Mary was stronger and was willing to discard her gender-role by society to be a disciple of . Jesus. We see ourselves in these two women. We have times when we are able to sit and listen and follow Jesus whole-heartedly. And then we have times when we are frustrated because the work is not being done that needs to be.

Martha’s attitude of anxiety and care is rebuked, not her actions. It gets in the way of an enjoyable evening among friends. She is distracted about many things. However, without her Jesus would not been fed. In contrast, Mary is totally focused on Jesus. This is her, and perhaps Martha’s, calling in the present moment. Martha is so fixated on details of dinner that she, like many hosts and hostesses, forgets the reason for the meal altogether

The story has usually been interpreted as an allegory, perhaps in the early Church contrasting the ministry of service to the ministry of the word (Acts 6:1-6) or a Jewish Christian emphasis upon works (the Letter of James) to a Gentile Christian emphasis upon faith (Paul); or (in the medieval Church) contrasting the active life to the contemplative life.

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