Jul 20, 2013

16th Sunday: Take a spiritual breath

"Martha . . . there is need of only one thing and Mary has chosen the better part."

Gen 18: 1-10a
Col 1: 24-28
Lk 10: 38-42

Hospitality is one of the most important virtues that anyone could offer. To welcome family, friends, and strangers into our lives goes a long way towards bridging the differences of one another. I think we pride ourselves in the Church to be a hospitable people.  But, unlike that of ancient times in which hospitality was not just a good idea but an obligation, we find ourselves today with somewhat of a mixed message.

How many Churches remain locked unless they are in use? Virtually every one we could safely say. In the same manner, we routinely lock our homes and our automobiles; we raise fences around personal property, we have surveillance cameras around schools and banks, we install alarm systems in order to catch any intruder, we fear “identity theft” on credit cards and bank statements, we go through all sorts of scrutiny when it comes to applying for a bank loan or mortgage on your house, etec, etec. And then we say, “Welcome!”

There are obvious good and wise reasons to take all of the above precautions but in our attitudes and in particular in matters of faith, we must take exception to such often justified paranoia of the dangers that lurk around us. Our image as Church should always be one that says, “All are welcome.” And, the same is true with God in our life. Yet, how consciously do we welcome the Lord in our midst?

Our God is a God without borders.  He is a God of invitation and when we welcome Him into our lives, we do “the better part.”

This Sunday our readings carry a parallel theme from last Sunday’s story of the Good Samaritan.  There we recognized the prime value of compassion; that no matter who, even our enemy, can do good through the grace of compassionate care for another in need.

This Sunday we hear of Abram, Martha and Mary; all three of whom, welcomed God into their personal space and their lives.

Like Moses and like David, Abram was a shepherd simply minding his own business in his nomadic life; moving about from place to place as their herds grazed in the desert. How important it was for survival that occasional wanderers could find rest, safety and hospitality in the harsh environment should they come upon a shepherd camped among his tents.   And so, in the reading from Genesis we hear of three visitors to Abram who were “standing nearby” his temporary settlement.  

Abram eagerly welcomes these men, who we hear in the first lines of the reading, were “the Lord.” Abram is eager for them (God and two angels) to stay.  He “ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them . . . and said ‘Sir . . . please do not go on . . .’” Though there were three (early indication of the Trinity?) Abram addresses these persons as one.

The point is his enthusiasm, his attitude of hospitality and the sure blessing that came to him and his wife Sarah due to their respect. God promises Abram, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a son.”

In like manner, the story of Martha and Mary is a familiar one.  They welcomed Jesus to their home.  Tradition is clear that Jesus had a special relationship with these sisters and their brother Lazarus who he raised from the dead. Maybe he could always find a place to hide out and rest with them should things get a bit dicey in Jerusalem. Nonetheless, the story is powerful in its cultural commentary.

Like the woman who came to Jesus at the home of Simon the Pharisee (Lk 7: 36 – 8:3) and wept at his feet, Mary sits here at the feet of Jesus listening to his every word.  Martha, ever busy about all the necessary things of hospitality, is well-meaning certainly but Jesus uses the occasion in order to teach a basic lesson about discipleship.

To see Mary move boldly to such a position at Jesus’ feet is not only suggestive, though not intended to be such, but counter-cultural.  Mary takes the social position of a man, a male disciple of the learned rabbi, who is positioned to learn from the Master.  She sits and attentively listens to his teaching. Such chutzpah!  

We might say the scene is both instructive and inspiring.  It seems to indicate what Jesus so often showed – that he came for all: male/female; slave/free; Jew and Gentile.  In this scenario we see the Good Samaritan who reached out and broke through the cultural prejudice for the sake of compassion.  We hear the woman weeping at the feet of Jesus for her sin and our Lord tenderly forgives her.  The woman caught in adultery whom Jesus does not condemn but gently admonishes, “Do not do this again.”

Women of Jesus’ time were considered to be servants – their place was in the home. If they were widowed it was the responsibility of the oldest son to care for them and if childless they were reduced to begging.  Jesus not only broke through those barriers but indeed says that we too must do the same in our human relationships.

To contemplate the Lord and his Gospel in our lives – to sit at his feet as we do when we attend Holy Mass and hear his word in the Scriptures, to find time for reflective prayer in our busy lives is the better part.  The rest of the details will fall into place.  When we find him, we must be attentive.  As cliché as it may sound, “When we’re too busy to pray, we’re too busy.”

Not only must we listen it seems but we must also welcome the Lord; we must invite him to come into our “homes.” Are we too caught up in duties, responsibilities, and busy work that just fills our time to stop and take a spiritual breath with the Lord? I know how easy it is for parents or for myself as full-time pastor to find excuses  rather than take the time to feed myself spiritually. “I’ll get to it later.  I don’t have the time right now.”  Sound familiar?  

The Eucharist is that moment when we gather not just for a welcome but for a good listen.  It might be true that one reason why regular (weekly) Church attendance is down is because so many have filled their days/weeks/ and our life with sound and distractions; with activities and priorities that have blinded us to see the “better part” with the Lord as a higher value.

When Christ feeds us in his Word and his Body are we prepared and disposed to sense his presence?  Do we just show up for Mass or do we truly make use of that time to listen and reflect?  Is my whole life centered around my personal needs and wants or do I truly make time for others?

Lord, save us from useless and shallow distractions. Help us to see the higher good that you offer.”