Treat all as if they were angels

  • July 11, 2013

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) July 21 (Genesis 18:1-10; Psalm 15; Colossians 1:24-28; Luke 10:38-42)

Messages from God most often come to us in the midst of everyday life and by ordinary — almost mundane — means. For Abraham, it was a day like any other. He was not doing anything remarkable, just sitting by his tent half asleep in the heat of the day. When he looked up he saw only three men, but the narrator has already tipped us off: the three were a manifestation of God, possibly angels.

Abraham’s eager, reverent welcome and scurrying about to provide them with food and drink was not because he recognized them as divine emissaries. He was extending hospitality to strangers, which in the ancient near east was considered both obligatory and sacred.

Towards the end of the meal, the behaviour of his visitors became rather strange. They knew the name of his wife Sarah, and they asked where she was. Then the bombshell: they would return, and when they did, Sarah would have a son. This son was the long-awaited heir through whom Abraham would become the father of a great nation and have countless descendants. It seemed ludicrous, for both Abraham and Sarah were well-advanced in years. Sarah thought it was hilarious and even laughed, much to her chagrin when confronted later by her guests. That was the whole point: everything depended on God. There was nothing that they could do to hurry things along or force God’s hand — and they had certainly tried!

Patience is a hard-won virtue especially when it involves waiting for God. Abraham’s “righteousness” consisted in believing God’s promise and living his life accordingly (at least most of the time). Living a life of trust in God’s grace and compassion is also our challenge. Have we ever encountered messengers from God (“angel” means messenger)? It is possible, for in Heb 13:2, the author reminded his audience of the importance of hospitality to strangers — after all, many have entertained angels without knowing it. This was not only a reference to the Mamre story, but a recognition that our own vision is limited by our human nature. God appears to us in ways that we can understand and handle.

The most innocuous looking individual that we encounter can bear a word of encouragement or the answer to a prayer for guidance. Let us treat others as if they were angels. After all, we are all potentially God’s messengers for one another.

How could anything be lacking in the afflictions of Christ? Absolutely nothing — and yet Paul insisted that sufferings endured on behalf of the community of believers was a completion of the work of Christ. Part of this was symbolic rhetoric to make the point that the work of redemption was a process that continued in the life of the Church. The main victory was won by the death and resurrection of Christ but much work remains, and that is where we come in when we promise to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

The story of Martha and Mary leaves many with the nagging suspicion that Martha was treated rather unfairly. We can probably remember times when someone was content to sit and let others do the work. But that is not what this story was about, and no one was being put down or put in their place. The story was also probably directed at Luke’s community at the end of the first century. Not everyone may have been onboard with the idea that women could be full-fledged disciples in the Christian community. Martha was no different than the rest of us. She was busy doing very necessary things — meals do not prepare themselves.

We can be so caught up in the demands and details of everyday life that the call of the spirit and the invitation to walk closer with the Lord fades into the background or the realm of good intentions. Jesus gently — and probably with a smile — reminded Martha not to forget what was most precious: the Word of God. Mary recognized the graced moment in the presence of Jesus and allowed herself to be captivated by His teaching. This is a challenge not to allow anything to distract us from the fundamental reason we are here on Earth — learning the lessons of loving and serving and deepening our relationship with God.