The Holy Balance

07-21-2019Pastoral ReflectionsRev. Brian F. Manning

Our summer season has clearly arrived with this beautiful sun and wonderful warmth. For folks who have swimming pools, wonderfully large decks for grilled dinners, or homes away at lakes or oceanside towns, this is a great season of hospitality. In the last three weeks my family has had a constant and wonderful flow of family and friends at our home down in Falmouth. Nephews, nieces, grand nephews and grand nieces, in-laws, and countless long time and newly made friends have visited for a stay or for a great summer dinner. Our summer is a time of great informal hospitality. Are you also aware that the gracious art of hospitality also runs quite deeply in the Hebrew and West Asian traditions?

Our Old Testament is full of examples of this welcome. Indeed the Jews are reminded quite clearly that they once were a wandering people, and it is their obligation and honor to welcome the stranger and alien among them. Our holy scripture makes it quite clear that opening our heart and home to another is truly a holy act. This scripture this weekend should help us purify our hearts and minds over the present controversy over immigration and perhaps come to decisions which are worthy of our faith and our God.

However, our Sunday scripture is also a reflection that may also help us with living our lives in various and additional ways. Note how in the readings there is a lot of running around and inconvenience in offering hospitality. Abram is almost a whirling dervish. He sees the three men arriving and goes and greets them with an effusive and generous welcome. He demands that the three unexpected visitors stay a while. Then he runs off to Sarai who is the family baker of bread. Next he orders a servant to get going. Note how it is Abram personally who waits on these three. Without explanation, the three ask about Sarai, and the one, who is clearly omniscient, if not prophetic, knows Sarai wishes for a child and promises one before the year is out.

These visitors remain shrouded in great mystery. Their symbolism is confusing and ultimately undefined. In our second reading, the Letter to the Hebrews, we interpret that the author clearly had Abraham’s visitors in mind when he admonished his readers. We read: “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels” (Hebrews 13:1-2). Whoever they were who arrived at Abram’s tent that day we do not really know, but we do know they received the gifts of Abram and Sarai’s hospitality. And we also know that the newly named Abraham and Sarah received an unasked-for gift: the promise of a child, a promise that was fulfilled against all odds.

The Gospel tells of another visitor and two hostesses — Martha and Mary. In today’s more common language we say Martha’s problem is that she is a “control” person and even if Mary had helped, it would not have been enough. Jesus wanted Martha to prayerfully rest a bit, not because her work did not matter, but because it made her lose sight of other important realities. Sadly, some self-absorbed or lazy people use this passage as an excuse not to help. Of course, the opposite is also true, some people use prayer as an unbalanced excuse not to help when help is needed and possible. We learn in the Gospel today that neither excessive prayer nor excessive work lead to holiness. Saint Benedict said it best: “ora et labora” — “to pray and to work.” This balance is a constant struggle and we need to ask ourselves periodically how well we are balancing these two pillars of holiness in our daily lives.