Our readings today are about discipleship.
What is a disciple? The dictionary defines it as a student or a follower. That’s what we’re all called to be as Catholic Christians; students and followers of Christ.
The first reading begins with the Lord appearing to Abraham by the “terebinth of Mamre, while the day was growing hot.” What’s that mean? Well, a terebinth is a tree of the cashew family that used to be used to make turpentine. Mamre is a place, about 4 kilometers north of Hebron. The terebinth of Mamre was a place where pagans held sacrifices and it was believed that the tree itself wouldn’t burn.
So Abraham was camped out near this tree, or possibly grove of trees, around noon, when the Lord showed up. When Abraham looked up he saw three men. He ran to them and asked them to do him a favor. He asked them to accept his hospitality, to rest under the tree (remember, it’s hot) and to wash their feet. He also offers them “a little food.” The men agree. Abraham runs into the tent and tells his wife Sarah to whip up some rolls from “three measures of fine flour.” That’s about a half a bushel of flour, so it makes a lot of rolls.
Then he has a servant prepare a tender, choice steer along with curds and milk. When this “little food” is ready, Abraham waits on the men while they eat.
Now, the story doesn’t tell us who these three guys were. But, they do know Abraham’s wife’s name is Sarah and they promise that when they return, same time next year, Sarah will have a son. All the signs point to these three guys being messengers from God, maybe even angels.
Clearly Abraham is impressed with the three. He spreads out a feast for them and calls it a little food. Notice that he didn’t prepare the meal himself. He left that up to Sarah and the servant. But he did serve the meal and wait on the men while they ate. Like a true disciple he didn’t want to miss this opportunity to hear what the men had to say. He wasn’t going to spend a minute in the kitchen while these three were around.
And, they had plenty to say! Elderly Sarah would give Abraham a son in less than a year. And, as we know today, that’s exactly what happened.
Fast forward a few thousand years and we find Jesus hanging out at Martha and Mary’s house, something he did fairly often. We’ve heard this story many times. Martha is in the kitchen whipping up food for Jesus and the others gathered there. Her sister, Mary, is sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to what He has to say. I can’t imagine there’s a single person in this church who can’t sympathize with Martha. She’s doing all the work! It’s not fair! But that’s not really the point of the story. Remember, I said that these stories are about discipleship, about being a student or a follower.
Whether the situation is fair to Martha isn’t the point of the story. There are a couple of things that we may overlook in our empathy for Martha. First, we know that Jesus does outrageous things, especially when it comes to women. Forget the unfairness between the two sisters. Mary belonged in the kitchen with Martha because that’s where women were supposed to be. But Mary wanted to be a disciple. She wasn’t going to let any silly society rules about the roles of men and women get in her way. She was seated at the feet of the Master. And Jesus was behind her 100%.
Mary was the precursor of centuries of strong, intelligent, holy women who have taken their proper place in history. Look around this church at all the statues of women saints. They didn’t stay in the kitchen where they belonged. They followed Mary’s example.
Saint Ludmilla, born around 860, founded the first Christian church in Bohemia along with her husband Duke Borivoy. She was martyred in 921.
Saint Elizabeth of Hungary was the daughter of a king. She built numerous hospitals where she served the sick, dressing the most disgusting sores with her own hands. She’s depicted carrying roses because the food she was carrying to the poor was miraculously turned into flowers. When her husband died she was forced from her palace and had to wander the streets, but she still continued to help the poor. Elizabeth died at the age of 24.
Elizabeth’s cousin was Agnes of Bohemia. She was the sister of King Wenceslas. She was raised in a monastery after being engaged at age three. Unfortunately her fiancé died when she was only six. She was engaged two more times, the last to Frederick II. But Elizabeth wanted to be a consecrated virgin and appealed to the Pope to intercede, which he did.
Agnes built a convent and a hospital and then another convent for the Poor Clares. She became a Poor Clare herself and her inspiration brought hundreds of other girls into the order. Unlike her cousin Elizabeth, Agnes lived to a ripe old age. She died in 1282 at the age of 77.
I won’t boor you with any more history, but I think you get my point. Ludmilla, Elizateth, Agnes, and all the other holy women depicted by the statues in our chapel were descendants of Mary. Her actions in today’s Gospel, choosing the “better part” and Jesus approval of what she did, opened the door to holy women down through the centuries.
God calls all of us to be disciples and to make disciples. Sometimes, like Mary, we have to step out of our comfort zone; to defy society’s rules. By following Mary’s example along with the examples of all the holy women…and men…depicted in our church, that’s exactly what we’ll do and Jesus will praise us for choosing the better part.