Homily for July 17

Image sosurce

Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
(Scriptures for today's Mass)

Audio for homily


Even if it’s seldom true that there are
“two kinds of people in the world,”
 (as in:
“There are two kinds of people in the world:
Red Sox fans and Yankees fans.”)
Still, such divisions can sometimes bring us within striking distance
of issues more important  than sports team loyalties.
So let me suggest that there are two kinds of people in today’s world:
those who favor a culture of hospitality
and those who favor a culture of suspicion.

We have examples of both in today’s scriptures.
True to his Middle Eastern culture,
Abraham runs from the shade of his tent
to welcome three strangers and offer them hospitality.
For a contemporary comparison,
imagine yourself leaving the lawn chair in your yard,
and running to greet three strangers passing by your house
and saying,
 “Come on in, take it easy: have a cool drink and a snack!”
What’s remarkable to our eyes is not only Abraham’s hospitality
but the initiative he takes in offering it.

In the gospel, however, something very different takes place.
Martha is anxious and worried, burdened with the work
of offering hospitality to Jesus who has stopped by for a visit.
In response, Jesus recommends that Martha take a lesson from,
and not criticize, her sister, Mary, who offers the Lord
a different kind of hospitality.
It seems that Martha’s hospitality actually led her to focus
not on her guest but on herself:  she was anxious and worried;
while Mary’s hospitality was all about focusing, attentively,
on her guest and welcoming him not only into her home
but into her heart as well.

So, with that scriptural background,
let me return to my opening thesis
that there are two kinds of people in today’s world:
those who favor a culture of hospitality
and those who favor a culture of suspicion.

Certainly there are enough reports of tragedy in the news these days
to encourage within many of us a stance of caution,
a posture of self-defense,
when it comes to greeting and meeting the stranger among us.
Such caution can have about it some very commendable points.
There is certainly nothing wrong in being alert
to the presence of an enemy or activity that truly signals danger.
The Middle Eastern culture of hospitality that taught Abraham
to leave his tent to welcome strangers passing by also taught him:
 “Trust God  in everything- but keep your camel tethered.”

A healthy caution is not the enemy of hospitality
unless and until it turns our hearts suspicious:
suspicious of certain kinds of strangers;
suspicious of every stranger;
suspicious of others on account of their dress, their color,
their language, their faith, their customs, and country of origin.
Caution which becomes suspicion
is often but a step away from prejudice
- and prejudice has no place in the Christian heart.

The kind of hospitality that obliges the believer is an openness that:
welcomes the other - stranger or friend;
tends to the others needs - and generously so;
and stands open to the other’s heart and truth -
be it familiar or something yet to be learned.

Hospitality does not require us to be naive or reckless:
that would be foolish.
Rather, hospitality invites us to be open to others:
in mind and heart;
in home and hearth;
in our own town and at our nation’s borders.
Hospitality invites us to consider, wisely, and to welcome
the unknown, the stranger, the one who is different.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote:
 “We encounter God in the face of a stranger…
God creates difference; therefore it is in one who-is-different
that we meet God…
God makes every person in the same image - His image-
and yet every person is different.
The supreme religious challenge is to see God’s image
in one who is not in our image.”
- Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in The Dignity of Difference.

The daily news, the election, pending legislation
and debate on a host of political issues
invite us all to consider whether we favor
a culture of hospitality or a culture of suspicion.

It’s easy, and tempting, to answer that question
in terms of politics, the economy and military strategy.
Far more difficult is the task of answering that question
in terms of our faith, our beliefs and that holiness of life
to which God calls everyone one of us.
Whatever our answers might be, yours and mine,
the scriptures today call us to submit them
to the scrutiny of God’s love:
God, in whose one image each one of us
is differently, uniquely,                         
created, shaped and formed.

Let’s be grateful that indeed it is with reckless hospitality
that Jesus invites saints and sinners to his table
to hear his word, to seek a change of heart,
and to be nourished, in the Bread and Cup of the Eucharist,
by the very life he so recklessly laid down
for each of us on the Cross.


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