22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time -Year C August 28, 2016
Readings: Sir 3:17-18,20,28-29 / Heb 12:18-19,22-24a / Lk 14:1,7-14
GETTING BEYOND, NOT ABOVE, ONESELF
Today is a Sunday of highs and lows. Sirach counsels us to find meaning in being "low," a trait which he says, should be inversely proportional to our being "high" up there. "Humble yourself the more, the greater you are" (1st Reading). The letter to the Hebrews takes as a given our having "approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God." In and through Jesus, "the mediator of a new covenant," we have received the singular grace of being in the presence of the "ecclesia" - the gathering of "countless angels in heaven" (2nd reading).
At first blush, there seems to be something incongruous, if not contradictory, in the first two readings. The first extols lowliness and humility. The second proclaims the singular grace of Christians being able to go up the mountain of the Lord - Mount Zion. The first glorifies lowliness, and counsels us to seek not, and search not, for what is above our strength. The second simply declares the egregious fact of our having been made close to God. The two readings seem to be saying in effect: we are lowly, but we are exalted by no less than God in Jesus Christ, and thus, made worthy to approach the city of God.
This is definitely a day of lows and highs.
But more seeming contradictions are in the offing. The Alleluia verse, which comes right after the 2nd reading upgrades us, so to say, and lifts our morales up by speaking of our closeness to the living God who dwells in the highest heavens, puts us back down once again: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart" (Mt 11:29, Acclamation before the Gospel).
Indeed, today is a day of highs and lows.
But the Gospel passage seems to be the real clincher. Where society's usual tendency is to seek for places of honor, and for people to exalt themselves, the Lord does the exact opposite. By means of the parable, Jesus counsels us to seek for the lowest places. This is counterintuitive. In a world where "everybody loves Raymund" seems to be the centerpiece of our "self-promoting and narcissistic culture," Jesus tells us not to get above ourselves. He apparently tells us to avoid the "highs" and prefer the "lows." But the parable has a surprise, almost "fairy tale-like," ending, as if to tell us: "Don't get above yourself, so that God could set you beyond yourself."
So, is this Sunday's liturgy really one of highs and lows?
Yes ... God wants and wills to exalt us. This, the letter to the Hebrews declares matter-of-factly. We have drawn near to Mount Zion and the city of the living God. He has come to draw us up higher in and through Christ.
No ... God does not want nor will that we should get above ourselves. Today's liturgical readings are a reality check. We are wisely counseled to take care that we do not exalt ourselves unilaterally: "Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted" (Gospel). The reality is that, being poor and lowly, powerless and small, we can only proclaim in profuse thanks the equally egregious reality that all we have is God's generous gift: "God, in your goodness, you have made a home for the poor" (Responsorial Psalm). And what is that place, according to the Bible? "Remember man that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return" (Gen 3:19).
Yes ... God does want us to go up higher. This much, the parable makes clear and sure. After putting oneself in the right place - the lowest, the least, and the last - the Lord tells us: "Amice, ascende superius" (Come on up, my friend, to a higher place, Lk 14:10). God tells us to follow not the ways of the world, which tends to always seek selfishly for endless self-promotion, but to follow his ways, for he "humbles the mighty, and exalts the lowly to high places." It is God who exalts. It is God who gives, and it is He who alone does for us according to what we all deserve.
Yes ... today is a day of highs and lows. We are all high in the estimation of God. "We all share in the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Rom 8:21). We have God-given dignity and freedom both of which are "inalienable," that is, things that cannot be forcibly and unjustly taken away from each one of us. This is a day that speaks rightly of "highs" as far as our dignity as human beings is concerned.
But today, too, is dedicated to our rightful "lows." Dignity does not give us a blanket permission to treat ourselves more than we really deserve. Pride is not to be taken as part of the package of God's gifts to us, for God's favorite virtue is humility.
Pride is to close oneself in on oneself. Pride is self-love pushed to the "highs." When one is proud, the thermostat of one's personhood "overheats" and the flames of self-promotion pushes the temperature through the roof. When something overheats, the whole system suffers a meltdown. The higher one goes, the lower one goes crashing down the lowest place of humiliation and embarrassment.
Yes ... today is a day of salvific and redemptive "lows." Jesus tells us to "take his yoke and learn from him," for he is "meek and humble of heart."
Yes ... there is something salutary and beneficial in being in the "lows" of self-estimation and self-aggrandizement. For when one is down there, there is no way but up. But when one has put oneself up there, there is no way but down. At this point, Jose Garcia Villa, the famous Filipino poet who wrote his poems in English, comes to mind. One of his more memorable lines says: "How high is low, if it resembles high yet not grows? ... It expires, as it aspires." Taking Christ's yoke is clearly a precondition to "learning." One can grow, only when one learns to be low. For what good is it even if it "resembles high, yet not grows?"
Humility is being in love with the reality of the lows of our human lives. Humility is truth and the truth is that it is not up to us as human beings to raise ourselves by our own bootstraps, but only up to God, who would tell us at the proper time: "Amice, ascende superius."
Josh Groban is right. We do not raise ourselves up. No ... only God deserves the accolade that he sings about: "You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains; you raise me up, to walk on stormy seas; I am strong, when I am on your shoulders; you raise me up to more than I can be."
This Sunday of highs and lows thus reminds us of one important thing. We ought not to get above ourselves but go beyond ourselves, beyond power, beyond position, beyond promotion that is shallow. In a word, God calls us to transcendence ... "Amice, ascende superius!"
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C August 21, 2016
Readings: Is 66:18-21 / Heb 12:5-7, 11-13 / Lk 13:22-30
ROBUR AB ASTRIS (STRENGTH FROM THE STARS)!
Last week, I wrote about the difficult struggle of a climb I did with friends at Mt. Ugu in Northern Philippines 26 years back. The support of my own little version of my "cloud of witnesses" kept me going, until we all safely made it to the destination, where we were able to celebrate Mass. One thing beautiful about trekking up heights is the difference that is made when one keeps the goal in sight, when one sees the ultimate destination in the looming, but beckoning distance. The sight of the summit, as much forbidding as inviting, keeps one focused on the goal. The view of one's destination, though seemingly unreachable, keeps one pining for more, walking some more, putting in just a little bit more effort each time, at least to put one foot before the other, "one step at a time."
The big difference is made by one's ability to keep the goal in sight, both physically and figuratively. One gains strength by merely focusing on the ultimate goal. This happened to me the first time I climbed Mt. Kanlaon in Negros island in southern Philippines. The smoldering, smoking crater, that sharply jutted out of the relative flatness of Margaha valley, was something one saw for a long, long while, as one inched his or her way toward the smoke-smothered summit.
Our readings today continue the theme of difficulty taken up last week. But this Sunday, the focus in on one having the strength to face that very difficulty. Where last week, we read that Jeremiah suffered and paid a very high price for his "prophetic criticizing" and for preaching the truth, this Sunday, we get a glimpse of the hopeful imagination of Isaiah, and his "prophetic energizing" as he speaks of a vision of a great "ingathering" of peoples from all corners of the world.
What Isaiah sees ... his vision, his reporting - in God's name - of God's dream, is what energized, not only him, but the people he was - and still is - speaking to. Strength comes from what one sees. When one has a vision of what's coming up ahead, one gets the necessary push to go on. The ability to face difficulties has to do a lot with what one sees, and where one is going to.
The letter to the Hebrews (2nd reading) takes up the same thematic as it reframes the issue of suffering as discipline that comes from God himself. Discipline of all kinds, is ordinary cause for "pain, not joy." But in the same breath, the letter declares, that "later, it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it." Whether it will all turn out for "joy or pain" depends a whole lot on how one sees it all. It is all a matter of vision.
I have it on the authority of schema therapists, that many of our problems can be attributed to what they call false schemas or "cognitive distortions." What one sees is what one gets. False belief systems that remain embedded in one's psyche dictate one's feelings, and both cognition and emotion then influence greatly what one does. Healing, according to the same therapists, could only take place when one heals one's sight, and makes one capable once more of seeing wholes and not disparate parts.
We all have the tendency to see the pain and never the gain that can accrue from it. We all can very easily look at life as represented by a narrow door that the gospel speaks about. We can get so focused on the reality of the "narrow door" that we fail to notice the other side of that narrow door - a path that leads straight to glory, a straight road that leads direct to God.
I have reported to my readers on several occasions my recent experiences of deep pain and personal suffering. One in pain is hurting in many more senses that just one. One can feel abandoned, rejected, unwanted, and uncared for - rightly or wrongly. But the deepest hurt takes place in one's ability to see rightly. One's tears can truly cover one's eyesight literally and figuratively, on the one hand. But on the other hand, these same tears could become the "telescopes by which we can see far into heaven" as one writer has said many years ago.
It is all a matter of vision ...
What then would offer us the strength to be able to enter through the gospel's "narrow door?" What would it take us to gain strength to squeeze oneself through our own "cistern" experiences of rejection and personal suffering?
The readings today seem to offer us a clear answer. They counsel us to change eyeglasses, to change the way we look at things, to see beyond, and see things that most people do not see, do not want to see, or cannot see, for one reason or another. They tell us to see rightly, to see more, not less, given the eyes of faith that have been given us as gift.
Superstitious Roman pagans of old can teach us a lesson or two. Believing in fate and the positioning of stars, in the pseudo-science of astrology, they found solace and strength in the stars up in the firmament. Robur ab astris ... they would say. ... strength from the stars.
Ironically enough, this is exactly what I suggest the readings tell us today. They counsel us to see more not less. Pain is not mere earthly suffering. Pain is reframed by God's Word as "discipline," as a stepping stone towards greatness and holiness. "So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed" (2nd reading).
The star of our faith is worth giving a second look to. It helps us see the whole instead of parts. The whole does not consist of that "narrow door" alone, but what lies behind that narrow door. But we need eyes to see. We need to set our sights on the goal.
What or who then is our goal? ... no less than the Lord who reproves us because He loves us, who, on account of that same love, disciplines us, and who scourges every son or daughter he acknowledges.
Perspective was what we reflected on last week. It meant having clear eyes to see the difference between what lasts and what doesn't last ... like the dew that with the early morning sun passes away. Qoheleth reminded us last week: "transitoriness of transitoriness!" ... "Vanity of vanities!" ... Jesus, too, would have us set our sights beyond earthly greed, beyond working for mere accumulation of material things. "Take care that your heart is not overtaken by greed."
Given the right perspective, we know that man ought to work for his keeps, not for his greed. Merely working for one's keep means one gets to a point when he has to say "enough." People who work on account of greed never will have enough, for the pull of the more, the better, and the greater simply does not reach a point of satiety.
This Sunday, another perspectival concept juts out of all three readings. And the perspective does not have to do merely with things that last, but more so with the very "last things" - ta eschata - the ultimate realities of human creaturely existence. Wisdom refers to it in symbolic language as the time for the "the salvation of the just and the destruction of their foes" (1st Reading). The Letter to the Hebrews refers to it as "a better homeland, a heavenly one," and speaks of God who "has prepared a city for them" (2nd Reading).
Something so important and valuable is not to be taken lightly, but prepared for seriously. Thus the reminder from the Lord: "Stay awake and be ready! For you do not know on what day the Lord will come," (Alleluia verse) repeated one other time in the Gospel passage from Luke: "You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come."
But I would like to take a little step forward this Sunday. These two Sundays, we have been talking about the importance of having good vision ... that is, seeing rightly. Indeed, as the GUI mantra puts it: "what you see is what you get." Values seen for what they really are worth, are values we work for, strive after, and aim at with the totality of who and what we are as persons. But what we value, we also love. Knowing always leads to loving. A known good is a good that attracts, that pushes us to act towards attaining it. Knowing-good cannot be far from wanting-good. What the mind sees as good, the heart wants as value. Insight cannot be far from heart-sight.
Antoine de St. Exupery, in his famous work "Le Petit Prince" puts it so well: "It is only with the heart that one sees rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye." Mind-sight (or what we often call insight) is not all there is. We also need heart-sight. We also need to see clearly with the heart, as we need to see with the mind. We need as much evaluative knowledge, as conceptual knowledge.
The first lines of today's gospel passage clearly point to the need for this heart-sight, as much as the need for insight: "For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be."
Peter Kreeft, writing about discernment in daily life, speaks about seven foundational guiding principles. The first, it turns out, is what he calls "hermeneutics of the heart." The very first rule to follow is literally counter-cultural, so against the grain, as it were, as to seemingly be against common sense. People in our times would rather go for statistics, for scientific, verifiable, measurable, and quantifiable data. People would go generally for what the polls point to - the most popular decision and what would make the majority of people happy. But Kreeft wisely counsels what mass media does not counsel: follow your heart. Follow where your heart leads you to.
And this does not mean being led by subjective and fleeting emotions. Far from it! It means, first and foremost, having heart-sight, being in love with God, being in touch with God in and through our capacity for a decision that springs from the biblical center of our personhood - the heart.
St. Augustine knew it by experience. And he was right all along ... AMA ET FAC QUOD VIS! .... Love and do what you will. When we love, we see more, not less. We see what is right and proper, what is honorable, what is worthy of honor and praise. With proper heart-sight, we will be led to do only that which is right and proper ... what is godly, what is honorable and worthy of praise. For it is only with the heart that one sees rightly.
Today, the Lord invites us to see life and all it offers from the right perspective. And that right perspective is born from one's ability to allow room for the heart to do its proper role. Allow me to enumerate some of the characteristics of a person with the required heart-sight and in-sight ...
First, the gospel passage tells us not to be afraid. One who sees rightly with the heart has a heart full of courage: "Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom."
Second, the Lord reminds us that a heart full of love is also a heart full of excitement and readiness for the coming of the Lord: "Be like servants who await their master's return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks."
Thirdly, a heart full of love is one imbued with a deep spirit of faithfulness: "Blessed is that servant whom his master on arrival finds doing so" (that which is expected of him).
Knowing what's coming up ahead makes for good vision. Knowing what one ought to do because of what's sure to come, and doing accordingly both make for heart-sight. In Christian life, we need more than just insight. We need heart-sight. For it is only with a believing and loving heart that one sees rightly and fully.
All of us mortals long for the more, the better, the greater, and the ultimate! The history of the world, and our own personal histories reflect this timeless and ageless truth - we look
for fulfillment, for what satisfies, for everything that gives lasting
meaning to our existence. We even pine for immortality, for the
proverbial fountain of youth, physical prowess, and beauty. We hanker
for everything that lasts, and all things that lend perfection and
lasting dignity to our person.
All that we long for, and all that we look for are not bad in themselves. They are legitimate ends for men and women created by God with the natural tendency towards "self-transcendence." This includes our legitimate desire for material wealth and prosperity.
liturgy, though, offers some kind of a warning. Today's readings would
have us take a second look at what we consider as the "ultimate." The
Lord, today, would have us reflect a little bit deeper on the values we
hold dearly, on the priorities we have set for ourselves, on the targets
we have focused on, and on the bases of the happiness and
meaningfulness we have pegged ourselves and our lives on.
For, truth to tell, there is so much blindness in the world, so much lack of clarity, so much lack of perspective.
The view from Hollywood, for one, is an absolutist one. Entertainment and fun is the ultimate gauge of one's happiness and well-being. Everyday, we are bombarded by pictures of svelte, upbeat, and perpetually smiling actors and actresses, whose lives appear
to revolve around party upon glitzy party, their seemingly happy and
ever smiling faces paying tribute to the mantra of youthful life based
for the most part on the culture of fun.
So is the view from Wall Street. Wealth and fortune, and the examples of those who made
it, constantly hog the infotainment headlines. They act as the
modern-day prophets of the capitalist gospel of prosperity and financial
This absolutist culture is nowhere more visible as in the marriage of capitalism and entertainment
in the many shows that dot the prime time landscape: reality TV and
shows that consistently gravitate towards Hollywood, New York, Chicago,
and, of late, Las Vegas - all centers of commerce, entertainment, and
fun. In many other places all over the world, entertainment and shows
mostly revolve around the so-called "primate cities" which function as
hubs of development, wealth generation, and the place where to get the
"proverbial pot of gold."
Today, the Church goes counter-cultural, as usual. Today, I am afraid, many people, especially
the young, would find the Lord's good news as one that rather goes
against the grain. However, I would like to suggest that, more than
being a put-down, today's biblical readings are an invitation for
all of us to gain back perspective, to put back the horse before the
cart, and to regain our sense of clarity.
In a culture that has
co-opted our minds, our attitudes, and our hearts, and which has
gradually led us to absolutize and prioritize our "labor," "toil and
anxiety," and all "the part of [us] that are earthly," the Lord reminds
us today through Qoheleth that "all things are vanity." In essence, what
we are told is not that all the above is bad, but that they are simply
not the ultimate, for they are nothing but "vanity," that is, mere
"vapor," "breath," something that is merely transitory. They are useful
and important, true, but transitory, not permanent. Being transitory,
they are not to be considered the "end all and be all" of human
I had the fortune of meeting and being a friend to a
Filipino couple and their children over the past 30 years. When I got to
know them, I was doing pastoral work as a substitute pastor in a big
parish in Manila, while I was preparing myself to go to Rome for further
studies. At that time, they had a booming and lucrative business that
placed them among the more well-to-do members of the parish community.
The relative wealth they enjoyed, however, did not get to their heads.
They kept a low profile, while at the same time, gave generously to the
church, while anonymously helping a number of poorer members of the
parish. As I got to know them better over the subsequent years, I
realized that their lives had been some kind of a roller-coaster ride,
with the proverbial ups and downs, failures and successes, joys and
disappointments. Their wealth and financial status shot up and shot
down, in an unpredictable cycle that would have daunted people with
lesser faith. But through all this, the family remained steadfast. They
were happy when they lived in prosperity, but they were happy all the
same when there was precious little to spare.
They were a clear
example of persons who understood the relative importance of
wealth.Unfortunately, in my experience as a priest and an
educator/teacher for so many years, I have also encountered people who
showed exactly the opposite attitude. Already having more than they
could reasonably use to live decent lives, they still want more and
more. I have seen people whose drive for more seemed to be the all
important rule in their lives, with their families taking a back seat,
and values taking a still farther slot in their order of priorities. For
some of them, the unbridled drive for wealth and/or power have
gradually hardened their hearts, making them callous to the needs of
others, and the welfare of their competitors or opponents, as the case
And neither are Church personnel and religious priests immune to such a pervasive culture
that can also lead some of us to resort to manipulation and machination
in order to safeguard coveted, lucrative posts or hold on to power. To
our shame, there are posh parishes all over the country that have become
untouchable turfs of some well-connected clerics.
But what is sauce for the goose ought to be sauce, too, for the gander. All of us Christians,
whether cleric or lay, would do well to reflect on the prayer that we
blurted out after the first reading: "If today, you hear his voice,
harden not your hearts." We would do well to remember the relative
nature of everything that we have on loan from the gracious generosity
of God. "Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of
Indeed, all the parts of us that are earthly, all that we
consider important in this world, all that in our lack of clarity of
mind and heart, we believe to be the ultimate values; indeed everything
that in our shortsightedness, clouds our minds, and makes us lose
perspective and miss the forest for a tree, will all one day disappear,
for "the world and all its pleasures are fast drifting away." Sic
transit gloria mundi! That is simply the way of all earthly glory ...
like grass, they wither and die; they are here today, and gone tomorrow.
The little, the seemingly insignificant, the few, and the powerless ... those who don't seem to count; the perpetual underdogs; those whose lives don't make waves: the widows, the orphans, the poor, and the lowly ... these are those who can make a difference, those whose presence - and persistence - can mean life, fullness of life both for themselves and others, or the utter lack of it for everyone.
I refer to the "power of one." I speak of the riches behind the widow's mite, the force of puny David's stone that spelled defeat of the mighty Goliath. I point to the authority of the twelve - the Lord's "few, good men" whose conviction and faith, despite the onrush and crushing weight of the worldly power of kings, emperors, and tyrants over the past two thousand years.
The faith that we celebrate today is a testimony of the power of these "few good men" - and women - whose lives (and deaths) spelled life for all of us women and men of good will, life in all its fullness, as the good Lord would have us inherit.
Our faith, which we share with all brothers and sisters in the whole Christian world, deserves this weekly (daily for some) gathering of prayer, praise, worship, and thanksgiving. As we do Eucharist, though, we are all aware that the world we live in, is in a situation that, to be honest, leads us to ask this burning question: "Should not the judge of the world act justly?"
When we see what we are capable of doing; when we behold what we all are guilty of; when we are face to face with the reality of human depravity and sinfulness; when we acknowledge the fact that two thousand years after the coming of the promised One, the world is nowhere near being fully and definitively redeemed; when we cannot but stand as helpless witnesses to the ravages of war, terrorism, corruption, and the all-pervading signs of a "culture of death" in our midst, we are led to ask: "Should not the judge of the world act justly?" Should God not finally intervene in this messy world that everywhere seems to reek of personal, social, and structural evil?
Today stands out as a day of persistence. On the one hand, we see Abraham's consistent and constant pleadings before the Lord for the sake of "a few good people" in the city of Sodom and Gomorrah. On the other hand, we see also God's own brand of persistence in His answer that was as firm as it was gentle: "I will spare the whole place for their sake." "I will not destroy it, if I find forty-five there." "I will not destroy it, for the sake of the twenty." "For the sake of those ten, I will not destroy it."
Abraham's perseverance in prayer is matched by God's infinite justice. In a society and culture that prizes a kind of "corporate personality" and where "social responsibility" is highly valued, the presence of a "few good people" - along with the persistent and faith-filled intercessory prayer of one on behalf of the whole, occasions God's justice that then overflows in mercy. "I will not destroy it," says the Lord of mercy and justice.
This is definitely good news for us all. At a time when "hope grows grey hairs" and patience wears thin, when more bad than good news fills our TV screens and daily papers, when all we see seems to be the triumph of not a "few good people," but a whole lot of evildoers, when "all I endeavor in disappointment end," and faith almost becomes mere wishful thinking, the Church invites us to pray along with Abraham and the psalmist, "Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me."
You answer us, O Lord God. You definitely do. But we know all too well, that your answer has to be matched by a call on our part. We do know that reciprocity is part and parcel of the dialogue of salvation that you have come to grant us in Christ, Your Son. We do realize that this gift of salvation is both a gift and a task - Your work and ours; Your grace and our cooperation. You have done justice to us, O Lord God. Even where we were dead in transgressions, you brought us to life along with Christ, Your Son. You forgave us all our transgressions; you obliterated the bonds against us, with its legal claims, and Christ, Your Son removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross.
Today is a day of persistent prayer. Today is a day when the light of faith ought to overcome the darkness of hopelessness and cynicism. And the good news is ... the Lord Himself gives us THE model of persistence prayer - the Our Father. Persistence is the character of this prayer. Perseverance is etched in the very language of this prayer that asks, not for food for tomorrow and for the distant future, but only for "today," and only for what is strictly necessary to maintain oneself in "being" (epiousion).
Today's good news includes a blanket authority for us to "pray without ceasing." Today's good news gives us the right to pelt God with prayers, for "we have received a Spirit of adoption, through which we cry, Abba, Father." Today's good news offers us the privilege of drawing near to God, for "[we] were buried with [Christ] in baptism, in which [we] were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead." Today's celebration seals our right to "give thanks with all [our] heart," "because of His kindness and His truth," for "on the day [we] called for help, God answered us."
There are enough reasons for us to approach this loving, merciful, and just God. There are sufficient reasons to continue on believing, to go on hoping, even against hope - even if, alas, there are so "few good people" left on this earth.
A few good people ... These are the men and women who continue to show that God is alive and well, and working in our midst. These are the men and women who live unheralded lives of indomitable heroism and quiet faith. These are the men and women who pray fervently and faithfully behind closed doors, before flickering candles in dark and dingy churches. These are the men and women whose earthly lives may be surrounded by every imaginable type of darkness - the darkness of personal suffering, of poverty, powerlessness, and pain - but whose hearts are aglow with the resplendent assurance that can only come from a God who declares: "I will not destroy it."
A few good people ... a few good men and women ... a few persistent souls before a God of permanent love, justice and overflowing mercy. A few good people is all we need. For their sake, for the sake of those who seek, for the sake of those who knock, and for the sake of those who ask, God and His love will remain steadfast forever!
Can we be counted along with these "few good people?"
Abraham was not one to miss an opportunity. Seeing three men on their way towards some place else, Abraham saw the chance of a lifetime to offer some welcome and winsome service with a smile. And then some ... rolls and some meat; curds and some milk ... The guests surely were well provided.
Martha and Mary sure knew their places. Both did not pass off an opportunity as it came their way ... in the person of their friend Jesus, whom Martha, by the way, called Lord! The Lord merited some five-star quality service. This, Martha gave gratis et amore. The same Lord surely was worthy of some serious attention and personal care. This, Mary did, by sitting down right next to the Lord's ottoman chair, gracious and generous with her listening ears, as she was gracious and winsome in her heart.
Abraham and Sarah did their best to offer service and hospitality to the unexpected guests. Martha and Mary each had a way to make their guest feel important and needed, and definitely welcome. All four had a style. They pampered their guests with the best they had. Abraham had his tender, choice steer, curds and fresh milk to boot, and even waited on them under the tree while they ate. Martha showed her culinary and administrative skills, and lost no time putting her pots and pans to good use, and her long-lost recipes resurrected to life. Mary, on the other hand, lost precious time gracefully with the Lord, listening to Him intently, solely, with focus and passion - and, one more time - with feeling!
The three of them served with panache! And the fourth provided welcome with passion!
Who says the Lord can be approached and served in only one particular way? Who says that the Lord only wants service, and that He cares not much for anything that does not go beyond a five-star quality meal?
In our times, there are two extreme types of people ... those who say they believe in God and spend all their time doing godly things, good things, worthy things - ostensibly for God, yes, but not necessarily on account of a God they personally are related to. Yet, there, too, are those who spend all their time in religious things, those who do nothing but engage in holy things, pious stuff, spiritual concerns, but for whom all other-worldly concerns do not count for much. The former are definitely attuned to the world and contemporary reality, but never attached to a personal God. The latter, on the other hand, can be, and may be attached, but never attuned to the God they think they relate to.
I, too, can be an activist, and engage more than just pots and pans, and even fields and farms to do good. But if I am not attached to a personal God, all that activism is nothing more than a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal. I, too, can be a pietistic prayerful person, and boast about being attached, but if I have no love either that shows in action, I am equally what the other one is - another noisy gong and a clanging cymbal.
All four individuals in the readings did hospitality. But real welcome and hospitality is given by one who can recognize their guest for who he is ... who, then, does justice and who, then, can live in the presence of the Lord!
Abraham saw more in the three men. They were more than just lost and weary travellers expecting a bed for the night and food for sustenance of body and soul. They stood for someone higher, someone greater, someone as deeply mysterious as God who would later reveal Himself to be one in three - Triune God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!
This is the same God that Paul saw and knew first hand - God, the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past, now manifested to his holy ones ... the Christ in you, the hope for glory.
What does one do before a presence so august, so sublime, so real, so near and yet so far, so real, and so invisible to many? How does one behave in His presence, in His coming-in-flesh in our midst?
Let us all do an Abraham and a Sarah! Out with the best the house can offer! Choice meat, and the best curds and milk. Everything's on the house! This is hospitality at its best. Service galore to the utmost and the highest! Let us all do a Martha and offer service - five star excellent service! But let us all do a Mary, too, and offer that same service with a smile and some seriousness for the long haul - some spiritual nourishment, replenishment for the heart and soul as much for the body.
Service, yes! ... and a plus that is more than Google Plus+ --- service and a smile, service plus serious study and reflection that is worthy of a faith in Him that "comes from hearing!" Attunement, yes, and attachment, too! ... to a God with us, a God come-in-flesh, a God-wth-us.
I am a pilgrim. I am a learner. I journey with others in faith and life. In all I do, in my preaching, teaching, counseling, and writing, "all I want is to know Christ, and to experience the power of his resurrection" (Phil 3:10). By so doing, I humbly hope to make a difference in people's lives.