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God's Word on Sunday: We’re all welcome in God’s plan of redemption

  • July 10, 2022

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) July 17 (Genesis 18:1-10a; Psalm 15; Colossians 1:24-28; Luke 10:38-42)

Abraham and Sarah had all but given up. God had promised Abraham a son and heir and that he would become a father of a great nation. But the time on the biological clock had run out, for they were both far advanced in years, and no son by Sarah had been born. And this is often the moment God chooses to act — when all human efforts have been exhausted.

As the three divine emissaries passed by Abraham’s tent, he did what most then would have done — he extended hospitality to the strangers. Abraham was not stingy, for he far exceeded the demands of hospitality and laid on a feast for the strangers. One of the visitors asked where Sarah was, for according to ancient custom, she was not present but in the adjoining tent. Then the stranger dropped the ancient equivalent of a bombshell — he informed Abraham that when they next visited, Sarah would have a son. Sarah had been eavesdropping and further on in the story, she burst out laughing at the suggestion that she would give birth to a son. It seemed like a joke in poor taste, but the emissaries were dead serious and called her out for laughing.

And so it came to pass; the long wait was over. God had been faithful, and so had they (with a few little slips along the way).

Many Christians interpreted the three visitors as the Trinity and they are sometimes depicted in this manner in ancient mosaics, but it is unlikely. They were angelic messengers and as such, were merely expressing the divine will. For us, it is a meditation on perseverance, faith and patience. God works in God’s own time, not ours. Learning to wait faithfully and patiently on God is the most difficult but most rewarding spiritual practice.

Paul rejoiced in his sufferings and was convinced that he was making up for whatever was lacking in the afflictions of Christ. In fact, nothing is missing or lacking in the sufferings of Christ. This was Paul’s rhetorical way of saying that he was willing to suffer on behalf of the Church. The followers of Jesus had a huge and important mission: to make known to the Gentiles that they were included in God’s family and plan of redemption. The goal was to bring every human person to spiritual maturity for presentation to the Lord. The warning on the label, of course, is that first we ourselves must be spiritually mature in Christ in order to accomplish that mission. And we are far short of that goal.

The story of Martha and Mary has been plowed, worked and overworked for 2,000 years. The interpretations usually reflect the times and bear little in common with the original setting. For starters, it is not a description of the active and contemplative life. We probably sympathize with Martha as she works hard preparing the meal while her sister sits listening to Jesus. Mary is not following the expectation for a female and Martha is calling her back to it — working in the kitchen. But Jesus insisted Mary had the right to be a disciple and to be instructed, a right not widely recognized at the time. The words of Jesus seem to recognize this as He assures Martha that Mary has chosen what is important and it would not be taken from her.

It is likely a message to Luke’s late first-century community, some of whom might not have been onboard with the role that women disciples were playing in the Jesus movement. Unfortunately, over time women were often disempowered and relegated to a silent and subordinate status. But despite this, they have gifted the Church with many saints and mystics and have imparted the faith to many. Not only did Jesus affirm Mary’s role as a disciple receiving divine instruction, but He was also implicitly extending an invitation to Martha.

The equality of men and women in the Church is a fundamental principle that keeps slipping from our grasp. We need to always remember the Lord’s words, “it will not be taken from her.”