He was a hard working man, a good man of business. For years, he and his partner prospered, and their work ethic was impeccable. He was frugal; he didn’t go in for creature comforts, didn’t overheat his office or home in the winter, and probably didn’t worry too much about the heat in the summer. Yet one winter’s night while he was asleep, a ghost came to see him: a frightful apparition of his old business partner, long dead. A ghost with a terrifying prophecy of how he would spend the afterlife, carrying a huge chain he was forging. When the man challenged the ghost he said: “But Jacob, you were always a good man of business.” What the ghost of Jacob Marley said to Ebenezer Scrooge was telling: “People were my business.” All Marley’s toil on business, on accumulating things, ended in futility. After a very long evening of getting in touch with his past, present and future, Scrooge was able to understand what Marley was saying.
“People were my business” is key to today’s Scripture reading. In Abraham’s time, hospitality needed for life, needed for peace. When three strangers came near, Abraham opened his heart and his possessions to them, focusing on their needs, not knowing he was serving angels. When they told him about his reward for his generosity, Abraham and his wife were flabbergasted: they thought they were too old to have a son. This was a time when children were seen as a sign of God’s favor and childlessness was a curse. Abraham’s hospitality helped lift the curse.
The story of Mary choosing the better part can be misunderstood. Martha is doing what she should be doing, and lost in all the details, like a lot of us can be. What she wasn’t focused on was Jesus and what He had to offer her: that’s why she came to him to ask him to tell her sister to help her. Mary’s focus was on the person, not tasks. Mary knew Jesus was important, and since she was listening to Jesus, if there was something she needed to do, she would do it.
What is our focus in life? It’s easy to put together a to-do list, or a bucket list depending on our age. It’s easy to check things off one at at a time as we get them done, but what happens when there’s nothing left on the list, or when the list never seems to end? Like Marley told Scrooge, people are our business, and we’re called to respond to others as Mary responded to Christ. There’s an old story about a Benedictine guest master answering the door of his monastery late at night, trudging through the halls with his lantern, calling out in a sleepy voice: I’m coming, Jesus, I’m coming. We’re called to see Christ in the stranger, in the needy, in everyone we meet.
Jesus gives us the ultimate hospitality: He gives us Himself in his Body and Blood. Yes, there’s practicalities to deal with, getting things done takes some attention to detail. But it’s important to remember we’re not getting things done just to get things done. Our focus in on the person of Christ; our call is to respond to Christ. Christ is the center of our lives, and if we’re to live our lives in balance, with the right focus, we need to remember that people and their needs are our business.