Martha, Mary, and ‘radical hospitality’ to make others feel known and loved

Carla Oliver

Living the Word / By Carla Oliver

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time / July 17

Genesis 18:1-10a; Psalm 15:2-3,3-4,5; Colossians 1:24-28; Luke 10:38-42

For the better part of my life, my heart has been consistently captivated by an unexpected source of motivation. This particular gift has motivated me to gain new depths of self-knowledge, shown me a very particular way in which I was made to love, provided joy for myself and for others, and has set me on a path to pursue my passions with a greater purpose. For a short period of time, it might have also been the source of my worldly struggles and spiritual distraction, however, coming to recognize and name this captivating motivation has led me into a more focused mission than I could have ever imagined. This mysterious motivation is the desire to provide “radical hospitality.” Simply put, I have been given a desire to put extraordinary effort into making others feel known and loved.

In this Sunday’s first reading, Abraham displays his own desire to serve his neighbor through hospitality. It begins with his great attention to the people coming his way. He quickly moves toward them, greets them, and creates a place for them. Abraham simply uses what he has been given to receive them and to make them known and seen in an extraordinary way. The result was that through this radical outpouring, Abraham was brought to greater unity with God, the source of his joy.

Whether you have the servant’s heart of Martha or the more naturally receptive heart of Mary, may you continue to find ways to make the people in your life known and loved.

The desire for radical hospitality is again modeled in this week’s Gospel. When Jesus arrives in Bethany, He is immediately met by Martha, who “welcomed him” (Luke 10:38). I think about the motivation and desire that Martha must have experienced in her heart when preparing her home for Jesus. I imagine her anxious joy and heartfelt expectation as she was tidying up, assembling a meal, and thinking about the best place for Him to sit.

When pondering Martha’s heart, I recall the lessons instilled by my mother when our household prepared for guests. The level of attention to each detail, and the effort to make things “perfect” was exhausting, but the exhaustion was later transformed into a source of joy when the guests experienced being known and loved.

ONLY ONE THING NEEDED

When Martha was finally exhausted — “burdened with much serving” — she became so distracted that she lost her peace and failed to encounter the joy of her great preparation. In fact, she breaks all the rules of hospitality by trying to embarrass her sister in front of her Divine Guest, and by asking Jesus to intervene in a family dispute.

Jesus immediately calls her out of her distraction, gently making her known and loved by turning her attention back to the motivation of her hospitality. He says to her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her” (Luke 10:41-42).

We do not know if Mary helped her sister Martha with the preparations for Jesus or not, but she sure was sharing in the joy of making Him known and loved upon his arrival.

Whether you have the servant’s heart of Martha or the more naturally receptive heart of Mary, may you continue to find ways to make the people in your life known and loved. Through these authentic encounters we are able to foster our identity and cultivate in others that same truest identity. That we are not defined by our efforts or our works but that beloved son or daughter is the root of who we are and that “will not be taken.”

CARLA OLIVER is the administrative assistant in the diocesan Office of Vocations. In addition to teaching for four years, she served for two years as a missionary with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), which included leading Bible studies. She can be reached at coliver@cdop.org.

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