The Episcopal Church of The Holy Innocents
Proper 11, Year C, Track II, July 21, 2019
Be our guide O Lord in all we do. In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen
Have you noticed that last Sunday’s Gospel reading, and today’s Old Testament and Gospel readings all have to do with hospitality and the treatment of strangers and guests? Hospitality is a paramount theme in each of these readings and in Scripture in general. Last Sunday’s excellent sermon was about Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan and how he took care of a wounded man who was probably not from his town or his particular form of Judaism. Samaritans, whose origins were in Judaism and pagan beliefs, had developed some significant differences from traditional Judaism. For example: Samaritans had their own version of the Jewish Bible: they accepted the Torah but not the other books such as the Prophets. They rejected all the Jewish traditions. They had their own temple, not in Jerusalem but on Mount Gerizim (Got Questions? Biblical Answers Online). The Samaritans and the Jews were arch enemies. Sound familiar? We have some of that going on in our contemporary society, don’t we? Yet, a Samaritan who by tradition would hate a Jew, cared for a wounded man most writers believe was Jewish; even to the extent of whatever help he would need until he was healed.
It is the phrase from last Sunday’s readings “go and do likewise,” that made me engage in serious thought about whether I have gone and done likewise recently. I let myself partially off the hook because I have had to remain quiet and in a healing mode for three months but never the less – the question remains. This is a good time to reassess the role of the deacon in our church and in my life.
In today’s Old Testament reading we have a different event, different circumstances, and different actors but one of the underlying themes, hospitality, is similar to last week’s reading from Luke. Three persons come to visit Abraham as sits in the doorway of his tent in the heat of the day. In typical Eastern hospitality, Abraham welcomes them and invites them to stay for foot washing and food.
But who are these three figures? “Some have suggested that all three of these “men” were angelic beings who appeared to Abraham in the form of men. However, Genesis 18:1 says that it was “the LORD” (Yahweh) who appeared to Abraham. It is the LORD who speaks... Abraham stands “before the LORD”... So, one of the three “men” must have been God Almighty taking on the appearance of a man. We call such an appearance a “theophany.” When Jesus appears in His pre-incarnate body in the Old Testament, we call it a “Christophany.” Whether God’s appearance to Abraham in Mamre was a theophany or a Christophany, we don’t know for sure. But it does seem clear from the context that one of the visitors was God Himself (Genesis 18:22) and the other two were the angels…
Abraham’s response to the appearance of the three men also suggests that he instinctively knew that he was in the presence of God. A typical response to visitors in that culture was to rise and wait for them to approach the home. But Abraham ran to meet them and “bowed low to the ground,” a prostrate posture reserved for royalty or deity.
Abraham was well acquainted with the LORD and would have instantly recognized Him, because the Lord had spoken and appeared to him many times before” (ibid. Question ‘Who were the three men of visited Abraham in Genesis 18’).
I was reminded of Hebrews 13:2 “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”
Abraham exhibited typical Eastern hospitality to the three visitors although perhaps more elaborate than usual. If you and I came face to face with God and two angels what would we offer them for food? Maybe some peach cobbler I made for my granddaughter and her friend who visited this week. This would be after I picked myself up off the floor where I had fainted at the idea of feeding Jehovah. All I have is ground beef in the freezer, I make a good meatloaf, a fresh tomato salad? Is anything I can offer good enough for Jehovah? I think of the Christmas carol based on a poem by Christina Rossetti: “What can I give Him? I give Him my heart.”
In giving hospitality and care to the stranger, is it the Lord we are really caring for? In Leviticus 19:33-34, “If a resident alien lives with you in your land, you are not to mistreat him. You are to treat the resident alien the same way you treat the native born among you -love him like yourself, since you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.” We are guided by these Biblical principles as we live our lives as Christians.
And even in our last reading we have an example of hospitality although with a twist. Do any of you remember my sermon – Martha Got a Bum Rap? My point in that sermon was that Martha was doing what was expected of her – preparing the hospitality for Jesus, the honored guest. Both Mid-Eastern hospitality and the woman’s role in a house without servants, required that she prepare and serve the food, prepare the accommodations and whatever an honored guest would need, such as water to wash his feet. Martha, like Abraham attended to their guests as was required. I’ll bet Martha was the oldest child or the oldest female child, growing up well versed in what was required of her. Martha has the traditional role. Mary has the non-traditional role and that is the role Jesus praises. Is Jesus a feminist urging Mary to learn from Him? Mary is not engaged in the traditional role for the woman in that society. Instead she is sitting in Jesus’ feet, taking in every word he says.
I think my main problem with this passage is what seems to be a failure to recognize the value of what Martha is doing. However, I read this passage in Luke 10 in The Message translation, and there it says: “41-42 The Master said, “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it’s the main course, and won’t be taken from her.” In this reading I hear Jesus being sensitive to and appreciating what Martha is trying to do. I feel better now to know that Jesus appreciated Martha, too. Try as I might, I really can’t argue with Jesus’ position. We need to listen to Jesus, to God’s words for us, to spend time with Him, to prepare for whatever God requires of us. AMEN?
 Genesis 18:1-10
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