Father Nicholas Lang
The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost - Jennifer A. Hudson
Updated: Aug 9, 2022
The Mexican novel Like Water for Chocolate follows a young woman named Tita in her longing for Pedro, with whom she may never have a relationship. It isn’t that Pedro doesn’t feel the same for Tita. Pedro asks for Tita’s hand in marriage. However, Tita’s mother, Mama Elena, forbids it, citing their family tradition in which the youngest daughter cannot marry and instead must take care of her mother until she dies. This, according to Mama Elena, is Tita’s lot and she must accept it. But Tita does not. She expresses her feelings for Pedro when she cooks and her emotions get infused into the meals she prepares and affect the people who consume them. Tita and Pedro do meet each other in secret and consummate their love, but not without some consequences. Only when all barriers to their forbidden love have passed does Pedro ask Tita to be his wife. However, their happiness is short lived as Pedro dies and Tita follows.
When I first read this novel for a course on Latina writers during graduate school, I was struck not by its being a story about forbidden love, but by its being a story about injustice. I couldn’t understand how a mother would enforce a tradition that would cause her daughter emotional suffering and pain, especially as a woman who once lost her own true love. Tita is denied not only true love but also her full personhood and autonomy. Her place and function in life is dictated to her by external forces. But she subverts through the very place she occupies: the kitchen.
We hear a lot about women in the kitchen today. Sarah, in this morning’s reading from Genesis, is present in the story but appears to take a backseat in the tent. Abraham instructs her to start preparing cakes for the three visitors while he offers them a calf along with curds and milk. And while we have an image here of abundance and hospitality, we also have a transaction in this story. Since Abraham welcomed and provided for the three visitors, now he will be blessed, they prophesy, with a son borne by Sarah. We don’t hear it in this passage, but as the story continues, Sarah is standing at the entrance of the tent and laughs at the idea (though it seems she might welcome it). So we have this picture of Sarah that is not exactly as passive when you hear the whole story. She has something to say about the matter which concerns her.
Then, in Luke’s Gospel, we have Martha, who welcomes Jesus into her home. She is busy in the kitchen, making a fuss over Jesus, and then gets angry when her sister Mary neglects her duties. Yes, this passage, is seemingly once again about offering hospitality and about women’s roles during Jesus’ time in hospitality. But consider this: what if rather than by doing work in the kitchen Mary is showing a more radical hospitality to Jesus by engaging with and listening to him? And does not Jesus reciprocate that radical hospitality when she says to Martha, “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
We have two subversive actions here in this story from Luke. First, we have Mary sitting with Jesus. That a woman would sit at the feet of a male guest who was neither her spouse nor relative and that an unmarried male (Jesus) would allow a woman to sit with him was unheard of in Jesus’ time and culture. And it is an intimate scene, intellectually and spiritually speaking. In this sense, both Mary and Jesus challenge the existing paradigm about the roles and places of men and women in their society. Jesus invites Mary into full personhood by inviting her into discipleship. He recognizes her full humanity and need to be more than just another woman in the kitchen.
And isn’t that what radical welcome and hospitality is all about? Inviting all persons—no matter who they are, who they love, what their gender or race or abilities, what they believe or don’t believe—to be free to be their full selves as created, not the selves as defined by others. Selves whose dignity are to be respected and upheld. Selves that have gifts (both tapped and untapped) to share with the world and the equal opportunity to do so. Selves whom God desires to be whole. In God’s kingdom there are no barriers, no Others.
The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers, author of Radical Welcome: Embracing the Other, says radical welcome is “first and foremost a spiritual practice. It combines the Christian ministry of welcome and hospitality with a faithful commitment to doing the theological, spiritual and systemic work to eliminate historic, systemic barriers that deny the genuine embrace of groups often oppressed and marginalized. As you practice radical welcome, you join Jesus in stretching your arms and embracing The Other.”
Every person’s place, therefore, is as God’s beloved within God’s kingdom. What might each of us do today to genuinely embrace The Other so that they are no longer Other?