20 July 2013

BUSY FOR THE LORD?

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lk 10:38-42 (Gn 18:1-10 / Ps 15 / Col 1:24-28)

Many religious traditions have stories about a god or gods, goddess or goddesses, often disguised as travelers, visiting people.  In Roman mythology, for example, there is the story of Jupiter, with his son, Mercury, visiting the earth.  Disguised as weary travelers, they knocked on the doors of many houses but none would welcome them in.  Eventually, they came to a small cottage, where an old couple by the name of Philemon and Baucis, lived.  Philemon and Baucis welcomed Jupiter and Mercury into their home, without any inkling that they were rendering hospitality to gods.  While Philemon filled a bowl with warm water so that the guests could wash, Baucis put on her apron and prepared a meal.

When the table was ready, Philemon and Baucis invited Jupiter and Mercury to table and the two gods partook of a meal that consisted of hot stew and a pitcher of wine.  To the utter amazement of the old couple, the pitcher did not run out of wine, for as the wine was drunk it renewed itself in the pitcher.  It was then that Philemon and Baucis realized that they were entertaining gods.  Immediately they beg Jupiter and Mercury for pardon because of their poor hospitality.  But the gods appreciated their kindness instead and invited them to make a wish.  Thereupon, Philemon and Baucis expressed their common prayer: “We have grown old together, spending many years in love.  That neither of us may live in grief, we wish to die together too.”  The story has it that Philemon and Baucis spent even more years together, growing really very old, until they died in peace at the same time.

This story is fiction.  As far as we, Christians, are concerned, Jupiter and Mercury are planets, not gods.  And for us, Filipinos, Jupiter is a street in Makati and Mercury is a drugstore.  For the God we worship is the only one God.  And we believe that, indeed, He does visit us.  Is it not a great regret, therefore, if we miss His visitation?

In the first reading today, we hear Abraham giving hospitality to three strangers.  The truth is in welcoming them, Abraham was welcoming the Lord Himself – the opening lines of the reading tell us this.  He did not wait for the three travelers to reach him at all; Abraham rushed to meet them, bowed to the ground, gave them water to wash their feet, and invited them to rest under a tree just outside his tent, while he attended to the menu.  When food was ready, Abraham himself waited on them.  Sarah, his wife, remained inside the tent, for in their culture women were not allowed to eat with men other than their husbands and sons.  But though confined inside their tent, Sarah nevertheless heard the good news: God would visit them again next year and she would conceive and bear a son.  Alas, their lifetime wish, their deepest prayer, their greatest desire was granted!  God rewarded the old couple for their hospitality.

In the whole of the Old Testament, we see God who involves Himself with people.  He allows Himself to be affected by His creatures and engages Himself with their struggles in life.  Utterly almighty and truly the Absolute Other, God nonetheless communicates and enters into a loving relationship with people.  He visited them in the Old Testament; so does He visit us in the New.

In Jesus Christ, His Son, we do not only see an imagery of God’s visitation.  Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, is the literal truth not only of God visiting us but also of God dwelling with us and becoming one like us in all things except sin.  The Apostle Paul declares this with tremendous conviction: the mystery of God, kept secret from ages and from generations past, is now revealed in Christ Jesus.  Jesus is the face of the living God.  To see Jesus is to see God.  To listen to Him is to listen to God.  To welcome Him is to welcome God Himself.

“To love another person is to see the face of God,” so says the famous line from the musicale, Les Miserables.  That is absolutely correct.  But before seeing the face of God in another person, we see God first in Jesus.  So we must fix our eyes on Jesus that we may love the other person because in him or her we see the face of God.

The Evangelist Luke, in the Gospel today, emphasizes the incomparable importance of Jesus.  In narrating to us Jesus’ visit to His women friends, St. Luke carefully tells us that Mary “sat beside the Lord at His feet” while Martha addressed Him as Lord.  The keen among us may sense right away that this visit was indeed a special visit.  Thus, Martha immediately engaged herself in preparing a meal for the Lord but Mary willfully submitted herself to listening to the same Lord.

Martha’s being busy in the kitchen brings back to mind Sarah’s confinement inside the tent, for no woman in their culture and time was allowed to be seen with a man other than her husband and son, much less, eat with him, listen to him, and learn from him.  Women in those days were not instructed in the Law by the rabbis precisely because they should not mingle with men in public and, most importantly, they could not become anyone’s disciple, much less, anyone’s teacher.  Mary, however, was the antithesis of Sarah.  She was at the feet of the Lord.  She was listening to Him.  She was his disciple.  And like any good Jewish woman, Martha must have seen more than her being left alone to do all the work of hospitality but also the taboo in Mary’s behavior.  Martha took the role of a host but Mary adopted the posture of a disciple of the Lord.

Perhaps, asking Jesus to tell her sister, Mary, to help her in the kitchen, was in fact Martha’s way of telling both Jesus and Mary that what they were doing was something prohibited.  They should disengage.  But Jesus engaged them both even more!  “Martha, Martha,” Jesus said, “you are anxious and worried about many things.  There is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

The word of Jesus and Jesus Himself who is THE Word is for all.  He comes to each and every open heart that wishes to welcome Him, to listen to Him, to learn from Him.  And no other details of hospitality are needed except that one is present for the Lord.  Are we present for Jesus?  Are we always present for Him?  Are we really present for the Lord?

Significantly, “present” is the other word for “gift”.  A gift is a present.  Presence is a gift.  Jesus is present to us.  In this Holy Mass, He Himself is the present, the gift.

Indeed, presence is the best gift we can give because we cannot take it back the moment we have given it.  Certainly, the Lord deserves such a gift from us.  He wants our presence.

While some people are too busy with their other priorities than the Lord, others are just too busy working for the Lord.  Let us be honest: How busy can we really be for the Lord that we neglect the Lord Himself?

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