Today’s readings also speak about hospitality. It’s interesting to note that while Abraham is praised for his hospitality, Martha is seemingly rebuked for hers. But look closer, Abraham told Sarah to make the rolls and then instructed the servant to prepare the meat while he, Abraham, remained and entertained the strangers. The reward for this gift of hospitality was the assurance that, within a year, he would have a son. Abraham had, it seems, chosen the better part. But what about Sarah? And the servant? Perhaps it was simply assumed that, in Abraham’s culture, women and servants were expected to do the work of hospitality while the men sat and conversed with the visitor.
A very different picture emerges in Luke’s Gospel. Here Martha assumes the woman’s role of offering hospitality on behalf of both her sister and herself and becomes upset when Mary fails to share in the responsibility. But Jesus reverses the old order. He invites Martha into the conversation! The value of work is no longer to be determined by society but, rather by the spirit in which it is done.
Today’s society says that “real work” means working for pay, yet many women (and men) are choosing instead to stay home and raise their children. Is their work “real work”? Who has chosen the better part? What does “choosing the better part” mean? Luke seems to be telling us that, for Jesus, the only thing necessary is that, whatever kind of work we do — paid or unpaid — we do it, as Mary Magdalene did, in conversation with him.
What kind of work do you do? With whom are you in conversation?
Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister, retreat leader, spiritual director and published writer and poet.