By Father James Rodriguez
I have to admit that before writing this, I didn’t know what a terebinth was. It’s right there in the first reading, a word that I’ve surely come across before. To be honest, I’m not sure what I assumed; a sacred site, to be sure, but after looking it up I found that it was a tree from the cashew family that produces reddish-purple flowers and fruit in the spring, like the Cross on Good Friday.
Further, it was from this same type of tree that David’s renegade son Absalom hung by his hair, thrust through like his distant divine relative would be 1,000 years later for our salvation. What a fitting place, then, for God to reveal Himself to Abraham as the Trinity! Abraham sees three men, yet addresses them as one with words we should prayerfully echo: “Sir, if I may ask you this favor, please do not go on past your servant.”
With Abraham, we stand before the majesty of the Father, the love of the Son, and the light of the Holy Spirit, and beg Him to stay with us. What resounded in Abraham’s heart was the growing fulfillment of the ancient promise of salvation. God was with him. Indeed that has not changed; it has only deepened with every celebration of Mass and Eucharistic adoration.
God is with us. The iconographer Andrei Rublev is perhaps best known for the image he wrote of the scene in today’s first reading. The Persons of the Trinity are seated at Abraham’s table, with the viewer — you and me — facing them from the fourth seat.
They form a circle around this table, as you and I do with Jesus at the altar, and this circle itself resembles a cup, what St. Paul would call the “cup of blessing” that bears the Precious Blood.
This circle of love, this divine community, draws us in. No longer is God a distant power, but a close friend who invites us to share in the breaking of bread, and to recognize Jesus in that Eucharistic species. We are bound by the divine Spirit of love to mystically become “his body, which is the Church,” just as God bonds couples on their wedding day, turning separate individuals into an indivisible family.
This fourth seat at the table is our rightful place. At wake services before a funeral, the Gospel is a parable about being prepared. When the master finds his servants watchful, we are told, instead of sending them home after a job well done, he has them recline at table and he feeds them. The master becomes the servant.
Like Mary, it is for us to sit, taking a passive role from time to time and simply receive what Jesus offers. As a pastor, I find it all too easy to be busy, sometimes at the cost of my prayer life. It’s true that we must be responsible and diligent, but if we don’t have time to pray, something is terribly wrong. Just as our earthly friendships suffer when we don’t invest quality time, so too does our friendship with God. Perhaps what the Lord says to Martha and to us is a type of inversion of what happens in today’s first reading.
Maybe the Master is saying, “Sir (or Madam), if I may ask you this favor, please do not go on past your servant.” At the altar, let us — priest and laity alike — find the only nourishment that matters: the Word made flesh.
Father James Rodriguez is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church in Rockaway Beach.