Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C



Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

First Reading: Genesis 18:1-10a; Response: Psalm 15:2-3, 3-4, 5; Second Reading: Colossians 1:24-28; Gospel: Luke 10:38-42

In our first reading, the Lord God appears to Abraham “by the terebinth of Mamre.” A terebinth is a large tree in the nut family, maybe a pistachio. From Sirach 24:16 we get the impression that it was a beautiful tree, “I have spread out my branches like a terebinth. My branches are glorious and graceful.” The settlement of Mamre was situated about 20 miles south-southwest of Jerusalem in the area of Hebron. It is supposedly also the area where Abraham and Sarah were buried in the Cave of Machpelah. The Lord did not appear alone. “Abraham looked up and saw three men” near his tent. Middle East hospitality springs into action. There is some humor here. This almost-99-year-old man ran from his tent’s entrance to greet them, even bowing to the ground. We nonagenarians find it difficult to envision someone our age running and bowing to the ground. Abraham begs the Lord to pause in his travels. He offers water to bathe their feet and food for refreshment. All three replied, “OK.”

Abraham, still in his sprinting mode, hurries to his tent and arranges for Sarah to bake rolls. Next he runs, (What a role model for us elders!), to the herd, selects a choice steer and orders a slave to prepare the meat. He sets the cooked meat before the visitors along with curds and milk. Curds, a food of the poor, were produced by churning fresh milk in a goat skin containing leftover clots from a previous churning. See Proverbs 30:33. Then the three ask, “Where is your wife Sarah?” Abraham: “In the tent.” One of the men, who must have been the Lord himself, says, “When I return to you about this time next year, Sarah will have a son.” Our reading ends at this point, but we should not be deprived of the funniest part of the story. Sarah was eavesdropping on this dialogue, heard the part about having a son. With anticipated pleasure she laughed because at age 90 she was long past childbearing. The Lord who sees all and hears all was aware of Sarah’s reaction, and says, “Why did Sarah laugh?” She lied, “I did not laugh.” The Lord retorted, “Yes, you did laugh!” He repeats the promise of a son in the following year. Only in the next section of Genesis do the authors reveal that the leader of the three men was the Lord himself. This reading was selected as an illustration of the theme of hospitality, which is a theme of today’s gospel.

Psalm 15 responds to the first reading mainly in the people’s response, “He who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.” By the selection of this psalm as a response, one has to interpret Abraham as the one who is rewarded by the Lord’s presence in the first reading. The psalmist gives examples of people who do justice. Those who are authentic in intention and way of life, those who do not slander, do no harm, nor insult others, honor the Lord, do not charge high interest on loans and do not accept bribes.

The reading from Colossians begins with a revelation about vicarious suffering, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.” If it works for St. Paul, it should work for us, too — that God accepts our sufferings with those of Christ to benefit “his body, which is the Church.” Paul adds an extremely daring statement, as if to put a limitation on the value of Christ’s suffering — that his own suffering makes up for what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ. A mystery indeed, as is our teaching that the sufferings we undergo are beneficial to others. That is God’s arrangement, of which we read in Isaiah 55:8, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than yours, and my thoughts higher than yours.”

The gospel is the story of Jesus’s visit to the home of close friends in the town of Bethany near Jerusalem on the eastern slope of the Mt. of Olives. They are the sisters Mary and Martha, and their brother Lazarus, though the latter is not mentioned in this story. Their home was Jesus’ home away from home when he left Galilee in the north to travel south to Judea. The story gives occasion to investigate what Jesus faced in the society of his time, when he cultivated close friendship with women. In a scholar’s tool for studying the Greek New Testament, the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, we find in Vol. I, pages 792-794, some prevalent male-chauvinist opinions about women in Jesus’ time. A summary: Happy the man whose children are males. Woe to him whose children are females. Women are depicted as being greedy, inquisitive, lazy, vain, and frivolous. The custom of women preceding corpses in a funeral procession was their presumed responsibility for death. Conversation should not be held with a woman. A man should not share the words of the Torah (Bible) with women. A wife should not instruct children nor pray at the table. In synagogues, women were screened off from men. A first-century historian, Flavius Josephus, wrote, “A woman is inferior to her husband in all things.” With this in mind, we understand the disciples’ surprise at Jesus publicly talking with a woman (see John 4:27).

What are we to do with this chauvinist garbage? Jesus was friend not only to Mary and Martha, but especially to Mary of Magdala. She was part of a group of wealthy women, at least one of them connected to the royal household of Galilee, who supported his ministry. These faithful women of Galilee followed him to the cross and to his burial, and were the first to return to his tomb on the day of his resurrection. He publicly defended the faith of his mother. He entrusted the human race to his mother in his last will. On the day of his resurrection, he sent Mary of Magdala on a mission to male disciples who were fearfully hiding. A Samaritan woman with a “reputation” became his representative for the conversion of her whole town. He consoled the women of Jerusalem as they were grieving for him enroute to Calvary. These are the ones we know about. There must have been many more. With Jesus, we reject all the derogatory statements listed above – even those found in our Scriptures. Let us shout Hosannas and Halleluiahs for the wonderful women who spend their lives and energy birthing, nurturing, teaching, praying and working.