There is no ‘cheap grace’ from God

  • July 12, 2007
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C), July 22 (Genesis 18:1-10; Psalm 15; Colossians 1:24-28; Luke 10:38-42)

In the ancient near east, especially among the nomadic people, hospitality to strangers and travellers was a sacred duty. The host was responsible for the physical well-being of his guest: food, water, lodging and protection.
In the story of the encounter at Mamre, Abraham is exercising that duty zealously as he welcomes the three strangers — whom we know to be messengers of God — into his encampment. He does not skimp, but lays out a real feast for them. It is then that they get to the point of their journey: Where is your wife Sarah?

Both Abraham and Sarah suffered disappointment for decades because of Sarah’s inability to conceive. God had promised Abraham that he would have a son and that his descendants would be more numerous than sand on the shore or stars in the sky. Not only that, all the nations of the earth would be blessed through these descendants. When the promised son failed to materialize, both of them became anxious and disheartened.

God’s plans for Abraham unfolded according to God’s timetable and in God’s way. Sarah is now to bear a son in her old age as proof of God’s fidelity. And so it is with us: learning patience is difficult, and there are many preparatory experiences in store for us. The messengers of God will come into our lives in the most unprepossessing manner. By welcoming the other we welcome God. By welcoming all of our experience and remaining attentive we will ensure that the message will not pass us by.

{sidebar id=2}What could possibly be lacking in the afflictions of Christ? Was not His self-offering definitive and fulfilling? Paul is using a bit of religious rhetoric here, but to make a very important point.  We are not passive spectators in the drama of human redemption, but participants and co-workers with the Lord.

Paul is willing to undergo any difficulty or affliction for the joy of revealing to people the beauty and glory of the Christ that they carry within them. It is called a mystery: everything people have always yearned and searched for can be found within. The aim is not some sort of quick conversion or exercise in “cheap grace,” but full maturity in Christ. Maturity in Christ does not come about under a burden of rules, obligations or fear, but through freedom, spiritual diligence and conscious co-operation with the interior presence of Christ.

We’re all familiar with this type of person (hopefully not you!): Last to arrive and first to depart when there is work to be done. This sort of person saunters onto the scene as the last dish is dried or box carried with a casual “Anything I can do to help?”  Martha’s irritation is understandable. She is doing all the work, but presumably everyone is going to eat. All she wants is a bit of help from her sister.

The response of Jesus, so often misunderstood and misused, is not intended to humiliate anyone or put them in their place. Nor does it illustrate the difference between the active and the contemplative life. Throughout His ministry, Jesus redefined human relationships. Here He asserts Mary’s right to be a disciple and to be instructed by the master. This countered a tradition and culture that was reluctant to admit women to full incorporation in the life of spiritual study and discipleship.

It was obviously still an issue in Luke’s community when the Gospel was written (and still is). Jesus is adamant: Mary knows what she is doing, she has chosen well, and it will not be taken from her. Jesus is also drawing attention to the importance of spiritual awareness. In whatever we do, even good and holy things, there is a tendency to let both the ego and the demands and pressures of the situation dictate our thoughts, words and actions. We can lose sight of our spiritual ideals and turn a deaf ear to the guidance of the Spirit, allowing efficiency and accomplishment to assume a disproportionate importance.

Efficiency is not a virtue. A truly spiritual person is someone who is always attuned to the teaching, guidance and presence of God in whatever he or she is doing. Performed with spiritual awareness and focus, even the simplest of tasks can become a meditative offering to God.