Today’s first reading and Gospel form a magnificent and mysterious unity. In Genesis we have what the Church Fathers saw as a “theophany,” an appearing of God that, seen through the lens of Jesus, is unmistakably Trinitarian — the three nomadic guests whom Abraham and Sarah welcome with energetic hospitality, who have come to announce the conception of Isaac in the womb of the barren Sarah, are shown by the end of the story to be “the Lord.” Notice also that this divine-human encounter shows Abraham and Sarah to be both “active” in their hasty preparation of a feast for these Guests, and “contemplative” in their intimate conversation about the promise of new life that grounds God’s covenant with them.
In the Gospel, Jesus, who is One of the Three made flesh from the womb of Mary, is entertained by the hospitality of Martha and Mary who, traditionally, represent the active and contemplative postures toward the Lord. And though it was often used in the Christian tradition to distinguish monastic-contemplative life from more active forms of Christian life, it is better understood (as St. Gregory the Great did) primarily as a counsel to integrate both in all states of life.
The liturgical logic of the lectionary marvelously weaves these two Scripture texts together for the sake of mutual illumination — as promise-fulfillment, type-fulfillment, shadow-reality — and to illustrate for us the key importance of an integrated faith life that involves a “fusion” of both active service and receptive contemplation. In the words of Andrew Harvey, “This ‘sacred activism’ is the fusion of the mystic’s passion for God with the activist’s passion for justice, creating a third fire, which is the burning sacred heart within.”
What a magnificent vantage! — to entertain the Trinity, which is our highest calling, means both to run in hasty service of Them and to sit in rapt and listening wonder before Them. But even more magnificent is that we learn, in Jesus, that this pattern of action is first God’s, who is ever-anxious to make haste in service of mankind, quickly running to rescue us from our misery (Luke 15:20!) and remaining ever-desirous to sit in rapt wonder before our trusting and loving faith, eager to hear and speak of a thousand trifles.