It takes a certain amount of humility to be surprised and God’s ways are
seen to be surprising in today’s readings. With all the emphasis on Security
Checks in our world, being surprised has the element of fear.
We pray then for the grace of humility and faith to welcome the surprising
visits of grace in its many forms. Expectations of how things “have to be”
“how people have to be” prevent the welcome which the gifts from God need
to be received. We can pray as well for a conversion of images. God’s image
can have many facial human features. God frowns, snickers, and seems blandly
uninterested. God smiles lovingly upon our human condition and attentively
watches and encourages this human family of need. We can pray as well to
see the face of Jesus in those who come calling with surprises.
My mother, in her first year of marriage, (so our family story goes) was
visited by a charming salesman who beguiled her into buying some magazines.
As the story goes, (mostly related by my father), those periodicals never
crossed the doorstep after the salesman crossed it.
This experience left my mother with a terrible distaste for any person selling
anything at her or our door. One day, a vacuum cleaner salesman rang our
doorbell and I was the only one home. He was sincere and quite convincing
about his product and our need for a cleaner home. I invited him in and he
spread out all the attachments and began vacuuming our living room when my
cold-hearted mother arrived home. She said not a word to the fellow, but
to me she announced over her shoulder, “If you want to buy it, go ahead.”
I had the humility to welcome him, but not the money to please him.
We hear in today’s First Reading of a visit to Abraham by three somebodies.
God and two angels? Abraham seems to know they are not salesmen and so welcomes
them with more than casual excitement. He has his wife prepare some breads
and other servants to prepare a great meal as a sign of hospitality. In the
previous chapter of Genesis, God has promised that Abraham’s wife, Sara would
have a son. Her name, as with Abraham, is changed. She is now Sarah. This
name means “Princess” and from her will be born kings.
In our reading today, the question is asked by the divine-visitors whether
Abraham and Sarah have a son. When the reply is negative, the promise is
renewed and Sarah laughs, not in derision, but in surprise. The son will
be born within the year and his name, Isaacc, will mean, “God smiles kindly”.
Abraham welcomed the surprise of his visitors and Sarah welcomed the surprise
of her visitor to her womb and family of faith.
Jesus comes visiting his friends, the two sisters Martha and Mary. They too
welcome him, but in two different ways. Martha has expectations of just how
Jesus should be treated by her and especially by her sister. Mary is preparing
to welcome all that this visitor is and her expectations reveal the new form
of welcome which Luke has been narrating.
Just before these verses today, are last-Sunday’s verses of the “Good Samaritan”
who crosses boundaries to care for a person who is different, but beaten.
Our reading today is the final section of all that Luke has shared about
Jesus’ teachings concerning discipleship. Mary sits there doing more than
nothing. She is welcoming more than Jesus is as person. She is welcoming
into her mind and heart all that Jesus has come to offer as gift to those
who have ears to hear. The Martha-ing is good and helpful, but her expectations
are being invited to be rearranged. First the hearing, then the taking inside
all that Jesus is, and then there will be the life of sharing. This little
summation of Jesus’ teaching is not about the role of contemplation and action.
These verses present the two women as good and holy, but discipleship is
the new surprise Jesus has come to offer.
It does take humility to be rearranged by the surprises of God’s ways. God
comes not to sell us something, but that we might buy into the ways of hospitality
towards the various visitations of our lives. Expectations are natural, in
fact too natural. They bespeak demand, security, control, and severity. The
Latin root for this word is to “look out”. We can either “look out!!!!” in
fear or “look out” in wonder, amazement as with Sarah and Mary. We can say
“O what’s next???” or “what’s next?” with hands, palms up. Discipleship is
more than merely doing good things. It begins and survives with the belief
that God smiles kindly towards us through the faces of those who come calling.
It continues through our faces as we go doing the good things, surprising
this world with the smile of God.
We are not sales persons selling a Jesus who wants to clean up our houses
and lives. We, as disciples, are rearranged from our expectations of not
receiving what was promised or paid for. We are meant and sent to surprise
this world by how we live with the surprises and rearrangings in our own
lives. We move out after we have been sitting, taking in as much of Jesus
as we can.
“Look up at the Lord and with gladness and
smile; your face will never be ashamed.” Ps. 34, 6