The most important thing in the world is understanding and serving the word of God, writes Fr. Scott Lewis. Photo/Henryk Siemiradzki, Wikimedia Commons

Our place is at Lord’s feet

  • July 7, 2016

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) July 17 (Genesis 18:1-10a; Psalm 15; Colossians 1:24-28; Luke 10:38-42)

Sometimes there is more than meets the eye in the people we encounter each day. Thousands pass us anonymously, while occasionally we exchange a few words or a gesture with certain individuals. Is this accidental or coincidental? 

It has been said that coincidences do not exist — occurrences that appear to be so are merely God’s way of remaining anonymous. Abraham thought he was only demonstrating the required hospitality to strangers on a journey. Such obligations were taken very seriously, even treated as sacred. He called the three strangers into his tent, giving them water for washing and food to eat. Then one of them made a stunning statement. After asking where Abraham’s wife Sarah was, he went on to say that when he returned in the near future, Sarah would have a son. The long-awaited heir was finally near at hand. Abraham and Sarah had almost given up on God’s promise for a son to ensure their posterity. 

God had promised Abraham that his descendants would be more numerous than sand on the seashore or stars in the sky, but it didn’t seem likely. Abraham and Sarah were well-advanced in years, but now it was going to happen — clearly the work of God. It seemed ridiculous, and from a human standpoint, it was — Sarah actually laughed! 

Have we ever entertained angels unawares? Hebrews 13:2, alluding to this story, advises people to always exercise hospitality and kindness, since this is a distinct possibility. It would be good advice regardless, since in another sense many people are angels. The word “angel” means “messenger” and often the people we encounter do have messages to deliver, even if they themselves are unaware of it. Perhaps we can remember a phrase, statement or word spoken to us that was jarring, healing or enlightening. The message might even be non-verbal, as in a challenge to greater patience, tolerance, kindness or forgiveness. God communicates with us daily. How many times have we closed the door to this communication by self-absorption, inattentiveness or impatience? 

What could possibly be lacking in the suffering of Christ? The author of Colossians, writing in Paul’s name, claims to be completing whatever is lacking for the sake of the Church. It would probably be closer to the mark if we understand this as a realization that redemption is a continuing process to which all believers are called. By our active and Spirit-filled participation in the ministry of Jesus, we advance the healing and redemption of the world. The first step and most important step was the inclusion of the nations in God’s plan. 

Those who sit while others are hard at work are rarely popular. At first glance, it would be easy to side with Martha and her irritation. Meals don’t just prepare themselves. Mary did not seem concerned with her sister’s hard work, for she sat with rapt attention to Jesus and His teaching. But this story is not about Martha or Mary, nor about the difference between the active and contemplative life. It is about discipleship, and who has the right and the privilege of being a full-fledged disciple of Jesus. At that time, it was not expected that women would study the Scriptures or be a disciple of a master. Martha’s entreaty seemed to pull Mary back to the kitchen and domestic chores — the expected role. After calming Martha, Jesus insisted that Mary had a right to be there, and a right to be instructed. She had made a good choice, and it would not be taken away from her. She knew how to determine the most important thing in the world — understanding and serving the word of God. 

The real target of this story was likely Luke’s community in the late first century. Some of them may not have been happy about the greater role that women played in ministry and the life of the community. This account gave divine sanction to their new role and hopefully silenced a few of those who wanted to turn back the sundial or hourglass. Unfortunately, it is a lesson we have to learn over and over again. This story, or a similar one, is sorely needed today. Hopefully, we will all come to “know our place.” That place is at the feet of the Master, being instructed in His holy word. 

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