Trinity by Andrei Rublev is one of the most famous icons in existence. It might not look impressive compared to Renaissance paintings, but when it comes to iconography (which is its own form of art), it’s powerful. This icon also ties together the implications of both passages, Genesis 18:1-14 and Luke 10:38-42.
In the icon, you see three figures. These are the “angels” who visited Abraham at Mamre. Interestingly, though, as Luther notes, Abraham treated these three as one. Moreover, the text makes clear that the LORD, Yahweh or Jehovah, the saving God, appeared to Abraham. The three likely appeared in very humble dress and condition, perhaps as if on a journey or as refugees. Abraham begged the LORD not to leave but to join him to wash up and eat. He showed hospitality. This icon is therefore also called The Hospitality of Abraham.
Hospitality was very important during Abraham’s time and culture. And as a nomad, the father of many found himself on the receiving end of hospitality many times as. Hospitality is also stressed throughout the Scriptures. Jesus paints it as a hallmark of Christian communities. Think of the sheep and the goats on the Last Day. Hospitality evidenced the sheep’s faith, and a lack of hospitality betrayed the unbelief of the goats.
What’s interesting about Genesis 18, however, is that the LORD turned the table, so to speak, on Abraham. The LORD acted as host. The LORD, while receiving the gifts of water and food, gave the ultimate gift: the promise of a son and, even more, a Savior. The LORD had promised this to Abraham before, and Abraham had conveyed it to Sarah. It appears Sarah doubted Abraham’s account, however. So now the LORD spoke again for Sarah to hear it. Faith comes through hearing, as St. Paul teaches.
In Luke 10, Martha, like Abraham, wanted to show hospitality to the LORD. It seems right and proper for Martha to want to receive her LORD well in her home. And yet, again, the table is turned. Jesus commended Mary. Hearing was paramount, because faith comes through hearing. Hospitality and hearing are a common thread throughout these passages.
Take a look at that icon. On the left is the Father. The Son and Spirit incline their heads toward Him. In the center, as he is at the center of the Scriptures, is the Son, dressed in a royal robe as in his passion. Behind him is an oak, calling to mind the tree of life. Next to him, on the right, is the Holy Spirit, wearing green because he makes us new creations.
In the middle, on the table, the cup reminds us of the meal God gives to us, blessed here by the Father and the Son. The Lord turns the table on us each time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. We bring the gifts he uses, the bread and the wine, but he takes them and gives us his body and blood. He is both the host and the meal.
Notice something else about the icon. While the persons of the Trinity look at each other, emphasizing their unity, they also face you. The table isn’t closed off. A seat is open. They are showing hospitality, inviting you to join them. The LORD isn’t apart from and other than you. The LORD has entered into fellowship with you, by the Son, through the Spirit.
In Luke 10, Mary sat at the Lord’s feet. This was the posture of a student. This is what a disciple does. A disciple sits at someone’s feet. They listen. They learn. There would be a time to get busy, to cook, and clean for her divine Guest, but Jesus was speaking, and Mary listened. She took her spot at the table. She sat and listened. She heard.
In Genesis 18, Sarah heard now, too. She heard the promise of a son from God’s own lips. And what did she do? She laughed. It seemed impossible. She was too old. The time for having children had passed. And yet God was unshaken. His Word would do what it said. And it did.
Sometimes I think we should be more tempted to laugh at the gospel than we are, not in derision but in sheer surprise and awe. It sounds crazy, doesn’t it, that Jesus forgives when so few others will? It sounds crazy, doesn’t it, that Jesus stops when so many others pass by? It sounds crazy, doesn’t it, that the God of the Universe has given you his ear and has taken the time to speak into yours? Perhaps we should laugh more. What our God does for us, no one else does. What his Word does, nothing else can do.
Look again at that icon. See your spot. Know it’s your spot. God has prepared it for you. Hear his promise. Know that what he says must be. Know that what he says is for you.
As God gave Abraham a son, he gives his own Son to us. So listen. Listen and rejoice. Receive the hospitality of the LORD and let that hospitality spill over into all that you subsequently do.
Times inevitably come to get busy, and it is good and well to serve, but let us never grow tired of sitting at his feet. God grant it.