Studying God’s Word

Genesis 18:1-10a
Colossians 1:24-28
Luke 10:38-42 [108C]
The readings for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time focus on the issue of hospitality. In antiquity, hospitality toward strangers and guests was a well-established cultural norm.
The first reading is taken from the Book for Genesis and draws from a section of Genesis containing the cycle of stories about Abraham, Genesis 12–25. We first meet Abraham in Genesis 12 when he is seventy-five years old (Gn 12:4). According to Genesis 25, Abraham dies at the age of one hundred seventy-five (Gn 25:7). (Scholars acknowledge that Abraham did not live to be one hundred seventy-five years old. No one in the ancient world—or the modern world—has such age expectancy. It is likely that “years” are being counted differently by the authors of Genesis than how we in the modern Western world count “years.”) In today’s reading, Abraham is ninety-nine years old (Gn 17:24) when he encounters three strangers who approach him near the territory of Mamre. Abraham models the expected behavior of a tribal chieftain as he treats these visitors with honor and warm hospitality. Within the larger narrative context of Genesis 18–19, it becomes clear that the visitors are journeying onto the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to investigate the grave sin being reported in these cities. But their first stop is intended to encounter Abraham and deliver the news of Sarah’s impending birth of her firstborn son, Isaac. Imagine Sarah’s reaction to the news of her son yet-to-be born. Sarah was only ten years younger than Abraham; as an elderly woman, she likely would have found this news unsettling, to say the least! 
Hospitality is the focus of the Gospel reading as well. Luke is the only synoptic Gospel writer to preserve the story of Martha and Mary. John also speaks of Martha and Mary (see Jn 11, the raising of their brother Lazarus; Jn 12:1-11). From Luke’s description of the setting for Jesus’ encounter with Martha and Mary, it appears this was to be the first time Jesus meets them. One of the many interesting features of this Lucan story is that Martha, who shows the expected cultural norm of hospitality and service to Jesus as the houseguest, is not supported by Jesus. Mary, “who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak,” draws Jesus’ praise. Jesus’ support of Mary (who is portrayed by Luke as disciple learning at the feet of the Master) was important to Luke. Throughout his Gospel, Luke shows a concern for women unmatched by the other Evangelists. He often balances men and women (see, for the example, the infancy narrative), shows a special concern for widows (7:11-17; 18:1-8; 20:45-47; 21:1-4), and even highlights a group of women who followed Jesus throughout his Galilean ministry (8:1-3). Given the patriarchal social reality of Luke’s day, presenting Mary learning at the feet of Jesus may have been the closest the author could come to telling his intended audience that Jesus had (or even supported) female disciples.
One again for the second reading we hear from Paul’s Letter to the Colossians. A familiar Pauline theme is heard in today’s reading: “the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past” revealed to Paul (that is, the Gentiles being grafted into Israel’s salvation history) and given to Paul by “God’s stewardship.”

Dr. Daniel J. Scholz