Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Genesis 18:1-10a | Colossians 1:24-28 | Luke 10:38-42
Show favor, oh, Lord, to your servants, and mercifully increase the gifts of your grace that, made fervent in hope, faith and charity, they may be ever watchful in keeping your commands. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, amen.
We human beings have some amazing talents. Some of them work for the good. Some of them get in the way of who we’re supposed to be and why we’re here, but one of them is the fact that we can create a world of our own making. We can say the world is wonderful, the world is terrible, the world is filled with riches, the world is empty and dry. It’s almost like we have this ability in our mind to imagine something, and then the power of that imagination is so real that it can actually give us a sense that the world we have created then is the world we live in. There’s such a terrible risk in that, because in our Judeo-Christian tradition, what we have is a God who is entering into our life. Throughout history, for 4,000 years, he’s been communicating with human beings in a truly intimate way, trying to help them see the world as it really is, as he created it, and I want to see if I can get to that issue because of one simple truth, or help you get to a better insight of what the world is about by one simple truth that is so clearly depicted in the scriptures today.
It’s hospitality to the truth, openness to what’s real, receiving message after message after message that God is placing in our lives so we can open our eyes and see. That’s one of the big promises he made to human beings. “I’ve come to restore your sight.” It’s been distorted by your experiences in life. It’s normal that we grow up with other people who are not fully mature yet, and we pick up a lot of things that are not healthy from our family of origin, from our culture. It’s normal, but our job is to work out of that, to work through that. The very heart of what I’m trying to say today is going to be found in that second reading from St. Paul when he is talking to the Jews, trying to convince them that this system they belonged to that was so much about control and about laws and rules has been obliterated, and what’s in its place is a God of such generosity and such intimacy that he wants to enter into us. Paul said, “The mystery is Christ in us, God in us.” And to make it even more poignant to the Jews, he’s saying, “And he’s in the Gentiles, the sinners, the bad people. If he can be there, then think how much more he’ll be with us.” It’s like, “Can you get past all that sense of God being disgusted by our weaknesses and seeing us as polluted by our sins and wanting to have nothing to do with us?” He said, “That’s over. It’s not true. It was there. It was never the full intent of God, but it was the best thing the humans could come up with in trying to control people through a religion.” It’s the shadow of all religions, human beings in charge that need to control, not to free and open people to the most dynamic experience of an intimate, real relationship with divinity.
So in the first reading and in the gospel, we have two encounters with something that I hope and pray you will hear me say to you, and you will believe it with me. The divine force in the world, this God, this personal God is constantly, constantly longing to communicate with us, and it’s up to us to be in a disposition of what we call hospitality, which is a great virtue in Judeo-Christianity, because it’s about openness to the mystery of God speaking to you, to me. So look at the first story. It’s got every element of what I’m trying to teach you about the world. It’s about — here’s two people, a man sitting near his tent, in his tent, and he sees some strangers walking by, insists they come in. He wants to feed them, nurture them. He just wants to be hospitable. Turns out they’re three angels. He doesn’t know that. These angels are messengers from God coming to him to say something that is going to be so far out that they — well, the reaction of the news that the angels brought to them was ludicrous. Sarah overheard it, and she started laughing. And he said, “This is impossible,” but here’s this messenger coming and saying something about new life being born to this family that was considered barren. It’s a perfect image of a way of life. When you see it, there’s no life in it, and here these people are coming and saying, “No, no. There’s another way to look at the situation you’re in. Yeah, you’re 90 years old. You can’t have a baby, but God can do anything.” He can give you something when there’s no possibility of you producing it yourself. Trust him. He can come into your life and change everything in a minute if he wants, and I always wonder what those months and months would have been for Sarah and for Abraham, thinking, “My God, you really are pregnant. This thing is really changing. Oh, my God, my God.” I don't know what it would have been like, but it’s so fascinating that it’s about God’s capacity to enter into someone’s life, when there’s no possibility of change or growth in a particular area, and if you’re open to the hope — you have the hope that God can do this kind of work, you enter into what I call the mystical world, the mystical life.
So we see the same thing in the story of Jesus, only it goes a little bit deeper. Now it’s not Abraham and Sarah who are greeting angels. It’s another couple, Martha and Mary, receiving the incarnate God. He comes, and the two of them choose a little different response to his presence. Notice the first time they laugh in disbelief. Now Martha is very busy of all the things you need to do to take care of the guests. So just think that’s a perfect image of all of us in our relationship with God where we say we’ve got to get all this stuff done so that I please God. Be at church and do this and don’t do that and all the obligations, all the obligations in order to please this master/God, and that’s what Martha is working on. And here’s Mary, lazy Mary. She’s sitting there listening, listening, attentive to the guest. It’s beautiful. He’s here. He’s speaking to us. And it must have pleased Jesus so much. I would say the same thing pleases God now, that whenever you feel that you are really receptive to whatever information God wants to show you, give you, you want to sit there, ponder it and wonder about it, and that’s what Mary represents, the part of humanity that is willing to ponder something that doesn’t make a lot of sense, at least at first hearing. But she’s listening to Jesus, because she knows he’s got something.
I just can’t imagine the presence of this man Jesus that resonated out of him, because he was pure divinity inside of a pure human being. By pure I don’t mean — well, yes, sinless, but I mean human, fully human. He’s got it. He’s got what we are supposed to be. He’s the representative of how we become the person that God wants us to be, a fully human being infused with some kind of wisdom and power to affect change in people. And how do we do it? We do it through communicating with each other. That’s how we do it, but the way we tend to communicate with each other is often through a kind of — I don't know. Maybe it’s control, criticism, judgment. Why is it we have this negative energy? It’s because it’s evil, because it’s in the world, but when you think about the way we relate to each other, when we’re not functioning in the way that we feel that the other person should function, it’s often not a suggestion or a conversation about transformation slowly. No, it’s an attack. We attack. Why? Why do you attack? It seems to me the attack is almost always in response to something that’s been done to you, and what’s been done to you, if it’s pushing you to a point where you’re asked to look at something you don’t want to look at, face something you’re afraid of, and somebody pushes you on that, then you know what kicks in: self-survival, fight or flight. So you either — my mother went to her room when she had arguments with my dad. Other people come back with vengeance.
So how do you learn to listen to what’s happening between you in your relationships, believing that, in the tension that’s there and in the struggle that’s there, there’s a work going on that is natural to human beings but is supernatural in its capacity to change you? What if every day you wake up and you say, “I want to be part of the process of what God does in the world,” and that is to awaken people, open their eyes to see what’s real and true. “I want to be a catalyst for that. I want to communicate truth, light, wholeness.” And then we’re human, right? So we’re not going to do that just perfectly. We can’t go around and all of a sudden imagine that we’re these peaceful gurus who never raise our temper. No, we’re going to continue to attack and counterattack. So what would it be like if you take those counterattacks and attacks and look at them more deeply and just break them apart and say, “What’s being communicated right here? God, what are you showing me? What do you want me to look at? What do you want me to see?” What would he say? You’re there to feed each other. You’re there to welcome each other into each other’s heart. You’re there to comfort but to challenge, and you’re there that — when you act in a way that is part of your most natural human nature, you have someone who’s mature enough to say, “All right, I understand that, when we act that way, we go to a lower level of consciousness, and we spew stuff out.” So does that mean that we are that lower level of consciousness? No. It means we got pushed there, and the more you get pushed down in there and feel the anger and the bitterness in it, the more likely you are — you don’t want to go back down in there, because you don’t want to be spewing out something that’s destructive. What a strange human nature thing we do when we are out of touch with the divinity inside of us, and we actually do want to do harm to each other because we’ve been harmed. It’s natural. It’s not something to be ashamed of. It’s not something to say, “I’m no good.” It’s something to say, “Yes, I do that.”
But if God is the messenger, if we are messengers to each other, if we are open to whatever message is in every situation that we’re in, if we turn to it and say, “Look, teach me. Teach me. Teach me. Show me the truth. Show me the truth,” God, it would do so much to keep things from escalating into real destruction. What a gift, angels, the saints, God surrounding us, watching us act, react, act, react, and right there to comfort, to put their arm on our shoulder when we’re alone and say, “Look. Look at it. Look at it. Read it. Read it. It’s got something in there for you. It’s a message. It’s for you.” You can take it in, grow from it, and then life becomes something so different than a battle. It becomes an exciting, transformative journey to light, truth and awareness.
Father, create in us a deeper, deeper conviction of your constant watchfulness of everything we do, knowing that, with your grace, you can use every incident, every situation to bring us to knowledge, wisdom, understanding, truth. That’s what you have offered us. Let us never, never neglect this great gift: your wisdom. And we ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.