By Marjorie J. Thompson
We offer hospitality to God when we make ourselves consciously present to the Divine Presence and listen for what the Spirit is communicating. The story of Jesus with Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42) offers a striking illustration. We usually think of Martha as the one who offers hospitality to Jesus and his disciples. Does she not invite them into her home and busy herself with much serving? We tend to assume that Mary “does nothing but sit” and listen passively to a charismatic Jesus. We have imagined that the story pits service against prayer, action against contemplation.
But Mary chooses to sit and listen to Jesus. In doing so, she lays aside the traditional role her culture and sister expected of her. Is her choice not also an act of service to Jesus? He came to preach a message, to proclaim God’s kingdom, to invite conversion of life. Jesus yearned for people who would hear his words. Mary chooses to receive the gift of Jesus’ presence with her own presence, to receive his message with her hearing. Is it possible that Jesus experienced Mary’s listening as a deeper act of hospitality than the provision of food and drink?
Listening attentively to the great Other is a service of hospitality. God has a deep and passionate desire for us to listen to the divine word. The word is our life-source, our means of communion with One whose love we are destined to share. God wants fellowship with us! Every means by which we allow ourselves to be present, to listen, and to be encountered by the Holy One is a form of hospitality.
Finally, however, listening implies obedience. The hospitality of attentiveness remains stillborn unless joined by the hospitality of acting in accord with what is heard. To do the will of God is the ultimate expression of receiving the holy Other into the inner sanctuary of our hearts and the larger temple of our lives. Hospitality to God is finally expressed in our intentions and actions toward every creature God loves. We are not permitted to separate our love for God from our love for others.
From Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life by Marjorie J. Thompson. Copyright © 1995 by the author. Used with permission of the Westminster John Knox Press.
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