Do you sometimes feel like your prayers are not being answered? There is a lesson about prayers in our first reading today.
Abraham and Sarah were praying for a child. But they were getting old. It didn’t look like it was going to happen. Then three travelers stopped by. Abraham greeted them, bowed down to the ground, and said, "Let some water be brought, that you may bathe your feet, and then rest yourselves under the tree... Let me bring you a little food that you may refresh yourselves."
A little food! Three measures of flour. That’s more than twenty pounds of flour! A whole steer. That could feed a small army! As a consequence of their abundant hospitality, the prayer of Abraham and Sarah was answered. A year later they were rewarded with the gift of a child. (cf. Gen 18:1-15) If our prayers don’t seem to be answered, we need to examine how well we offer hospitality.
Initially, an attitude of hospitality may seem like a nice virtue to have, mostly a matter of good manners. But it is much more than that. It touches on how we envision God, how we proclaim God, and how we imitate God.
What does Psalm 23 say about God?
“In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
Beside restful waters he leads me;
He refreshes my soul….
You spread the table before me…
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
God is great at hospitality. I say that “hospitality” is God’s middle name. Today’s gospel reminds us that a major part of hospitality is listening. And, yes, God listens.
In Exodus we read, “the Israelites groaned and cried out because of their slavery. …(God) heard their groaning and was mindful of his covenant….” (Exodus 2: 23-24)
Psalm 69 says, “You who seek the Lord take heart! For the Lord hears the poor…” (Psalm 69:33-34)
In Proverbs, we read, “…the prayer of the just he hears.”Proverbs 15: 29
And in the first letter of John, we are told, “…if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” (1 John 5: 15)
The theologian, Paul Tillich, taught, “The first duty of love is to listen.” God leads us in the way of listening. We are challenged to follow.
In the Book of Deuteronomy, we have these words: “Hear, Oh Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)
At the transfiguration of Jesus, the voice from the cloud proclaims, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” (Mark 9:7)
And then there is Mary’s advice to the waiters (and us) at Cana, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5) In other words, “Listen up!”
In today’s Gospel, both Martha and Mary are providing hospitality to Jesus. Martha is in the kitchen with the busy work, preparing the food and stuff. Mary is at the feet of Jesus, listening to him. Even though Martha is upset with her sister, the lesson here is that both are providing hospitality. One in doing things, while the other in listening.
Our world is a noisy world. TV’s and radios are blaring. Billboards are glaring. Neon signs are flashing. Cell phones are ringing. Everyone wants us to tune in to their message. “Buy this.” “Vote for that.” “Do this.” “Go to that.” We end up like Martha, anxious and upset about many things,
How can we mute the external noise, create for our selves some inner peace, and open the ears of our hearts? What will happen if we do?
If we listen to nature, we will learn the lessons it is reaching out to give us. If we listen to other people, we will grow to understand, appreciate and celebrate their richness. If we listen to our inner selves, we will come to discover new horizons of possibilities.
And when we listen to nature, to other people, and to our inner selves, we stand a good chance of tuning in to the heart of God. With our ears, our minds and our hearts we will hear the sounds of love.
There was a story I read some time ago about a ten-year-old girl who got all excited about seeing a chipmunk. She came running it to tell her mother, “Mom, come look. There’s a chipmunk outside.” Mother was busy with chores and had no desire to look at a chipmunk. She just told her daughter, “Not now. I’m cleaning the kitchen.”
Thinking her daughter needed something to do to keep busy, the mother said, “Why don’t you go and work on that Sunday School project you have, okay?”And the little girl went off, disappointed.
For her Sunday School project she was to make a booklet illustrating four ways to love someone - a teacher, neighbor, parent, or a friend. After a while, the mother went to check up and see how her daughter was doing. The mother was quite surprised to see what the child had written. It wasn’t what she expected.
The little girl entitled her project. “Four ways to love a child.”
1) Go see chipmunks and stuff like that with your child. (She drew a picture of a mother and daughter looking at a chipmunk.)
2) When kids mess up, give them some hugs. (She drew a picture of two people hugging.)
3) Give kids a chance to talk.
4) Laugh a lot.
The mother began to reflect. Yes, it was summer. The kids were home from school and they were wearing her out. And sometimes she just wasn’t at her best. She realized that she was not balancing her time well. She was disciplining, and sometimes lecturing, but not listening. She was even forgetting that she had a sense of humor.
So, the next day, when the chipmunk appeared again, this time it was the mother who called to her daughter.
“Look, dear, the chipmunk has returned!” The mother gave what Mary gave in today’s gospel, -- the gift of attention with affection, which is at the heart of hospitality. Attention with affection.
May hospitality reign in our hearts – as it does in the heart of God.