|Father Perry D. Leiker|
Hospitality is pretty much a universal human value. Almost anyone who is educated and has been brought up with minimal manners has some sense of hospitality.
Some say the poor have an even keener sense of hospitality, because they know what it means to "go without" and, therefore, share joyfully with those who are in need.
For the Jewish people, it went even deeper than just good manners. They had a moral imperative to be hospitable, especially to the stranger. The harsh desert and nomadic nature of their lives made it crucial to open their door and share their table with a wandering stranger: “for you were strangers in a strange land” (Leviticus 19:34).
The first reading today presents a standard, yet stellar, example of hospitality.
The Gospel, on the other hand, reveals a "breach" of etiquette, at the least. In some ways it is a "double" affront: Mary fails to show hospitality by not taking care of the normal tasks expected when guests were present; Martha, in a public and offensive way, points out Mary’s flawed attention to these duties.
Jesus, however, typically, yet surprisingly, sees things quite differently: "outside the box." Jesus accepts, and even affirms the role, that Mary has taken as a disciple sitting at the feet of the teacher. The problem is that this was a role reserved for men; Jesus bestowed the same dignity on women. Jesus also noted that discipleship was even more significant than the very important and exalted responsibility attached to hospitality.
Jesus was so good at rearranging, and even giving new and deeper meanings, to the ordinary. What one person might see as almost meaningless often became central and essential in Jesus’ eyes. Mary chose the better part.
What is our choice?
Father Perry D. Leiker is pastor of St. Bernard Church. Reach him at (323) 255-6142, Ext. 112, or email email@example.com.