“Don’t be so practical!” “Don’t be so impractical!” These are two frequently-used statements, both reflecting frustration in somebody else. It all depends on expectations. We do say that we are “practicing” Catholics or Christians. This could mean that practice will eventuate into perfection. Rather, I think it means that we are doing something according to our religious traditions in acceptable ways. Lawyers and doctors practice too, but nurses and teachers don’t practice, they “do”.
In preparing this week for the liturgy for the weekend we can reflect on how we view lives lived within the Eucharistic blessing. Just for the sake of reflection, what if we say that practicing our faith, or the virtues is done in expectation of being evaluated, judged as to our inadequacies. This would render us graded and usually not very highly. We can pray with God’s being both practical and impractical according to our views, but the activities of our lives, when flowing from the Eucharist, are not a practice, but a perfection. We “do” faith and virtues and Jesus is extended through the practical and the impractical as well. We can pray with our struggles not to be judged, but more simply, to “Jesus”.
In Genesis, as well as in the other four books of the Pentateuch, various schools or theological traditions contribute their views of God and God’s dealings with the Jewish nation. The story which forms our First Reading emphasizes the transcendence of the almighty God and the tenderness of this God’s embrace of our humanity.
Abraham is taking his ease in the late afternoon and he notices three “men” standing nearby. He did not see them or hear them approaching, they just appeared. From his immediate actions of welcome, we assume that Abraham did not have many visitors or he would have soon run out of cattle and run his wife to an early grave.
Abraham invites his guests to be treated by Sarah’s hard labors and he seems to entertain the guests while dinner is being prepared. Here comes the theological view of God. After dinner, one of them asks where “Sarah” Abraham’s wife might be. When told, the speaker foretells a promise. The speaker knows the name of Abraham’s wife and blesses her, in her advanced years, the consummate blessing of those times, a son.
God knows, God visits, and God makes promises and keeps them. Now the big question is of course, was God good to Abraham, because he and Sarah were so welcoming? Does God come to bless, because of us or because of Who God is? It is quite impractical for Sarah to have a child at her age, but a very practical promise is made. This kind of story reveals more about the mysterious God than something of the human activities to attract God. Abraham and Sarah had to trust what they heard.
The Gospel is a rather cute little story, but within it lie some very important features of God and what is expected by God in our response. Jesus is welcomed. Martha is doing the practical things of getting a proper meal ready for Jesus the prophet. Mary is doing nothing except listening. Martha complains about the impracticality of her sister. Jesus replies with something simple and important. End of story.
Luke presents Jesus as a model for His prophetic disciples whom He has sent out relying on the hospitality of others and thereby, relying on God. Luke presents Martha as the righteous welcomer who does the practical things according to the Jewish religious and cultured ways. Luke presents Mary as a person of the Good News. She does the impractical thing of “listening to him speak.” She has chosen “the better part”, which is allowing the Good News to be heard.
The story of last week’s Gospel immediately comes before these final verses of this chapter in Luke’s Gospel. The reader or listener to the Gospel would understand that the very practical thing the “Good Samaritan” did, is what everybody would have to do if they sat at the feet of Jesus and listened to the whole Gospel. Martha is righteous by her expressing her religious traditions. Luke is presenting Mary as how each of us continues the life of Jesus, by listening and then getting up and doing all that the Gospel of Luke has offered.
This is not a family dispute, but a call to a radical way of living. We so easily listen to what we want to hear. What Jesus is saying in all the Gospels is not exactly all we want to hear. Jesus’ conversation with us, if we listen, will change, convert us and we would rather “get out in that kitchen and rattle those pots and pans.” We would rather justify ourselves by listening to our ways and doing our thing in hopes that God would be pleased, shmoozed, and appeased.
It is quite enjoyable to underline all the verses in the Gospels which we find distasteful and or inconvenient. I find the Gospel gets quite a bit shorter. Those are the verses we don’t want to hear, because they call us to change images of ourselves, of others, of life. The really good news is that Jesus just keeps sitting in those pages speaking and waiting for us to tune in.
“I stand at the door and knock, says the Lord. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and sit down to supper.” Revelations, 3, 20
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