In today’s Gospel (Luke 10:38-42) Jesus is welcomed into a small house in Bethany, near Jerusalem. We know this story, because we remember Martha and Mary – but notice that the story is about more than the two sisters; it’s also a story about hospitality.
In our first reading (Genesis 18:1-10 ), three travelers come to Abraham and Sarah’s tent in the desert. And this story is about more than Abraham and Sarah; it, too, is a story of hospitality.
These are the stories of our spiritual ancestors. And, as the stories were told again and again, the dwelling places – the house, the tent – became symbols of hospitality. We can find Abraham’s tent in the earliest art of the Christian church – with the three visitors an icon for the Holy Trinity, gathered in mutual love around Sarah’s table. We can find Jesus with Martha and Mary, the Son of God sharing the intimacy of a family meal, in great paintings from the Renaissance.
The more traditional the society, the more rules there are for hospitality. There are rules about food and drink; rules for men and women; rules for the family, and rules for visitors. But notice that in both of today’s stories at least one of the traditional rules is broken.