Here is a little historical Jesuit secret. We had a very important rule which spoke of how a “subject” would speak to a “Superior”. The subject, when speaking to his Superior, is not to look him directly in the eye, but at a point slightly above his nose. I am sure there were very good reasons for this rule, as I am sure there were very good reasons for all those rules of a long time ago.
The eye is said to be the window to the soul and many pictures can be seen therein. Prayer is that dangerous activity in which we look inwardly to see God looking through our soul’s window lovingly. We have to go eye-to-eye with ourselves to open that window so that we will be peaceful when experiencing God’s loving our truth. I suspect that we could keep our eyes shut if we didn’t want to be really known, but that kind of privacy is isolating.
As we prepare for the Eucharist these days, we might check our eyes for clarity and perception. We might find that we do not appreciate some folk’s looking too deeply through our soul’s window. We might also enjoy being seen more outwardly which would free us for a more interior viewing in prayer and at the Eucharist. Just for fun, look at somebody’s face slightly above the nose and see how long it takes before they touch the place where you are looking.
There are many interpretations and commentaries in the Jewish tradition concerning the verses we hear in today’s First Reading from Genesis. In the previous chapter, Abram, who is ninety-nine years old is visited by the Lord Who changes Abram’s name to Abraham and makes a covenant with him and his descendents forever. As a sign of this intimate relationship initiated by God, Abraham and all his male family are to be circumcised. This is agreed to by Abraham and so it is done.
Our reading finds Abraham recovering from the self-inflicted operation and while resting he again has visitors.
Much pondering and wondering has been spent on who these three were, perhaps the Lord accompanied by two angels? Many of the ancient Rabbis pictured Abraham in deep devotion in response to the first visit when he is interrupted by this second visit. They say that what our story is about today is the movement from prayer and devotion to the moving quickly to service. Abraham runs and rushes to Sarah to ask her help, then to his son Ishmael to have him select a prized bull for the meal of hospitality.
In the previous chapter God promises that Abraham’s obedience to the covenant will result in great numbers of families flowing from his faith. In our reading we hear the beginning of the promise’s being fulfilled. Sarah who is past the age of giving birth will be a mother within the year. The prophesy is made by the visiting guests. Sarah is also in the tent and hears this and laughs. Much has been written by the Jewish scholars about her laughter. Within the year she gives birth and the Rabbis tell us that this time her laughter fills and blesses the world. So there are visitations, conversations, great hospitality and all within the loving nature of God. Next weekend’s First Reading will continue this conversation between Abraham and God in this same chapter from Genesis.
What a wonderful and quite human story we have also in today’s Gospel. It follows exactly after last-Sunday’s story of the Good Samaritan who welcomed a man who had been beaten. Jesus is welcomed by Martha into her house and by her sister Mary into her soul.
This welcoming concludes a difficult chapter containing some of the basic teachings of Jesus, about which we have been listening these past three Sundays. We have heard the commissioning of the early Church, the disciples who are to go out without much material support and preach the Good News. We have heard about the implications of loving our neighbor and caring for them. This seems to be a little summary or reflection set up by Mary’s listening to Jesus. Martha is doing many things of welcome on the external level. Good deeds are to be expected. Martha and the Good Samaritan are doing the loving things. These good works are meant to be a result of “listening to” or being intimate, not only with the teachings of Jesus, but more, to the person of Jesus. It is to be assumed that Mary, after listening to Jesus, does get up and out to reflect in her life, what she has heard and interiorized. Mary welcomes all of Jesus and will herself get busy about many things, but she will do them as a revelation of His Spirit.
I was pondering the other day about what makes me and others experience anger. I am not sure Martha was angry, but it should be noted that she spoke to Jesus rather than to her sister. Perhaps she had verbally communicated her disappointment with Mary’s behavior before. Martha is appealing to a Higher Power Who then appeals to a higher way of relating with God and life.
There are many causes for anger, such as Martha’s being angry that Mary did not live up to her (Martha’s) expectation or agenda for welcoming and hosting. My hunch about anger is that our anger is related to our not dealing peacefully with our own insufficiency. We are limited, fragile, quite incomplete persons and generally do not wish that personal poverty to be seen. When found less powerful, less in control, unknowing and the like, anger seems to arise either toward ourselves or toward whomever or whatever causes exposure.
Perhaps Martha’s plans for dinner were a little bit of welcome and a little bit of posturing and without Mary’s help her posture would be bent a bit. Mary seems to be hearing that her limitations, insufficiencies, simple humanity, were blessed and loved by the Person of Jesus.
Take golfers for an example of what anger serves. When striking the ball, the golfer has an expectation of where it should land. When that agenda is not executed an ungrateful emotion seems to be expressed verbally denoting unbalance or upsettedness. I am not a golfer, but I wonder if the golfer is playing alone whether the blue-verbiage would be audible. Anger seems to accompany the frustrating encounter with some of the human self-truths we all have. At those times especially, but more often, it seems sitting with Martha’s sister would be a calming idea. She must have looked right into His eyes and she saw Jesus looking directly into hers.
“The Lord keeps in our midst the wonderful things he has done. He is compassion and love; he always provides for his faithful.” Ps. 111, 4-5
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