July 17, 2022
Revised Common Lectionary
Amos 8:1-12 or Genesis 18:1-10a
Psalm 52 or Psalm 15
Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Psalm 15:2-3, 3-4, 5 (1a)
Sunday, July 17, is a day that members of The Hymn Society have been looking forward to for a long time. This is the day that we begin our Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. I think that we have been anticipating this year’s gathering even more eagerly than in many other years, partly because we have not been together in person since July 2019. But we’re also excited because we are celebrating our hundredth anniversary this year, and for that reason we are looking forward not only to seeing one another but also to welcoming guests from eleven countries on six continents.
There has been much to prepare for. In addition to the normal tasks of registration, programming, and facilities arrangements, we have been thinking about how to make our many guests feel welcome. When I started reflecting on today’s Gospel story of Martha and Mary, I couldn’t help but think of the hospitality that we’re hoping to extend to our distinguished visitors this week in Washington.
When we hear the story of Martha and Mary, I’m guessing that many of us think about people—usually other people—in our families or among our friends. Even if you’ve never said it yourself, odds are that you’ve heard the comment that someone is “such a Martha”—like that’s a bad thing. Jesus never tells Martha that she shouldn’t fuss over company or prepare a wonderful meal. He simply pushes back on her demand that he dispatch Mary to the kitchen.
There’s a lot to admire about Martha. Luke tells us that it was Martha who “welcomed [Jesus] into her home” (Lk 10:38) in the first place. She was clearly eager to spend time with Jesus and to show her esteem with a meal in his honor. For his part, Jesus appears to have been quite happy to accept her kindness, making himself at home and sharing his words with others who may have been present.
It seems that Mary’s idea of hospitality was a bit different from Martha’s. While Martha was engaged in preparations, she “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.” Mary gave Jesus and his words her full attention.
The sisters portrayed in today’s Gospel story represent two complementary aspects of hospitality, both of which are important, even essential. Extending welcome requires preparation—planning, shopping, cleaning, cooking, and more. Jesus never suggests that this work is unimportant or unnecessary. But the “better part” of hospitality is giving to guests one’s full attention—listening to their stories, learning about their experiences, and savoring their presence.
The story gives us insight not only on how to welcome guests into our home, but also how we are to welcome Christ into our lives and into our communities, whether at worship or in the faces of those in need. Jesus is suggesting that there is a time to put preparations and fussing aside so that we can focus on “the better part,” savoring his presence and attending to his word.
Pastors, musicians, and other worship leaders may need to hear this message more than others. Too often our failure to prepare thoroughly causes us to be far more focused on what we’re doing than on the presence of Christ among us. Similarly, when we serve others, we are called not simply to carry out tasks on their behalf or for their benefit, but to engage them as persons with dignity, treating them as our valued siblings in Christ.
The reason that we prepare, whether for the guest in our home, the person we are serving, or the God that we worship, is to offer authentic and attentive welcome. Sure, preparation is a necessary part of hospitality, but today Jesus calls us to remember also to choose “the better part.”
A Hymn for Today: “Lord, Grant Us Grace to Know the Time”
American Lutheran pastor, theologian, homiletics professor, and hymn writer Herman G. Stuempfle, Jr., created dozens of hymn texts corresponding to the Sunday Lectionary. This hymn, based on the story of Mary and Martha, reflects Stuempfle’s strong conviction that genuine attention to the Word bears fruit in service and care for those in need.
Lord, grant us grace to know the time
Of actions or of prayer,
Which hour to crowd with waiting work
And which with you to share.
We seek your Word, as Mary sought;
We wait in quietness,
And yet we ask for strength to serve
With Martha’s faithfulness.
Your Word alone gives needed pow’r
To strengthen weary hands
And helps us see in each new day
The way of your commands.
But you have taught that love is feigned
That fails a neighbor’s need,
That faith we claim is false until
Your Word becomes our deed.
We thank you, Lord, for quiet time
To cast on you our care,
And for your Word that follows us
When work becomes our prayer.
Text: Herman G. Stuempfle, Jr., 1923-2007, © GIA Publications, Inc. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857
Tune: ST. ANNE
Image Credit: Mary, Martha, and Jesus, Kathleen Peterson, 21st cent.
“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.
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