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I THOUGHT YOU SHOULD KNOW | Jesus desires the hospitality of a listening heart

‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.’

The readings for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time demonstrate that God created man in weaknesses so abundant that they prompt man to cry out in desperation for the word of God. That is the profoundest hunger we experience within.

The first reading tells us: “The Lord appeared to Abraham by the terebinth of Mamre, as he sat in the entrance of his tent, while the day was growing hot.” God knew well of Abraham’s spirit of hospitality in the hot desert, so He allows Abraham to see three men standing nearby.

Abraham doesn’t know that these are three angels who appear as men. Thinking they are men in need of hospitality, “he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them; and bowing to the ground, he said: ‘Sir, if I may ask you this favor, please do not go on past your servant. Let some water be brought, that you may bathe your feet, and then rest yourselves under the tree.’”

For starters, Abraham offers a shade tree to protect them from the hot sun, rest for their weary bones and water to refresh their tired and dusty feet.

He follows up with having Sarah prepare some fresh bread. He picks out a choice steer and has his servant prepare it. Abraham sets this delicious and refreshing meal before the three men who are not in need of shade, rest, food or drink. These three men graciously accept Abraham’s hospitality. They thereby allow Abraham to see himself as a magnanimous man.

They then turn the table of hospitality on Abraham: “They ask Abraham, ‘Where is your wife Sarah?’ He replied, ‘There in the tent.’ One of them said, ‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a son.’”

It was only after the 90-year-old Sarah became pregnant that Abraham realized that he had entertained three angels. Abraham had undoubtedly been proud to offer hospitality to what appeared to be three needy men. He then realized that he had been living in a desert of waiting for a son for roughly 60 years. Abraham realized that he, who was living in the desert of childlessness, was given the finest gift God could possibly have given him.

The Gospel is more of the same. Martha, preparing a meal for Jesus, demands that God tell her sister Mary, to join her.

Is Martha’s hospitality really hospitality, or is it a cry for human recognition? She wants recognition for what she does, whereas Mary simply offers Jesus the kind of hospitality He desires, a listening heart.

Jesus once said: “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” There was no one who did this better than His mother Mary. When the shepherds had visited the child in Bethlehem, “they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”

In reflecting on the things the shepherds told her, Mary was preparing her heart for the time when these passages were to unfold, especially in Christ’s passion.

The greatest hospitality we can show Christ is a quiet and receptive heart in the presence of His word. In this silence, He offers Himself to our hearts. It pleases Him when we are receptive, because what we take in from Him in silence will be returned to Him in doing His will.

Yes, we are created in weaknesses in order that we can become pregnant with the word of God. His word feeds us and energizes us to do the will of God.

Feast your hungry spirits on Paul’s words to the Colossians in the second reading. “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His body, which is the Church, of which I am a minister in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the word of God, the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past.”

This is a real gusher! Because of Paul’s quiet listening, the will of God exploded in his heart so that he rejoiced in suffering for Christ so that he could fill up in his flesh “what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body.” Unless one is pregnant with the word of God, one could never rejoice in suffering the way that Paul celebrates this suffering!

In quiet time before the word of God, the Lord enlarges our hearts to embrace the uncomfortable sufferings that come our way as gifts, enabling us to show our God our great hospitality to Him by our courageous deeds. Because Paul was so imbued with the word of God, his freely embraced suffering was not a problem but a great gift from God, the reward for obedience and generosity that flows forth from meditating on His word.

Remember, in the Gospel, Martha was seeking human consolation, while Mary was silently taking in God’s will. Paul does the same thing. In silently meditating on God’s word, both Paul and Mary experience torrents of consolations flowing from their embrace of God’s will.

This hunger to embrace God’s will with all of our heart comes from first receiving this power from on high in the silent listening to His word. How are you and I using this daily gift?

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