When I was a child, I remember family visits to my aunt and uncle’s house. While my parents visited, I was granted the opportunity to play with my cousins. By evening, I would always end up seated on the same comfortable chair in their family room beneath a large wall clock. What I remember about that clock was not that it was large, but rather the unique sound it made. As its majestic pendulum swung from side to side, I imagined that with each swing, time was racing by. And indeed, it was.
Throughout our lives, time is something that has been given to us to do something with. While clocks provide a certain “proof” that time has passed, other images in our world also provide evidence that time is passing. In nature, rivers possess a unique way of showing us that time moves onward. While standing near the edge of a river, we watch as water rushes by, and we become aware of passing moments. For those of us who are parents, how many of us will forget the thrill of that first ultrasound when the beat of our unborn child’s heartbeat was revealed for the first time? Or, in returning to our childhood once more, were we not excited when the school bell would ring at the end of each day? With regard to each of these images, we become aware that with each passing moment, time has moved on.
God Acts-We React
Some years ago, I read a book written by a priest that was entitled God Acts-We React. And while I am certain that most of us have not read this book, the words of the title, God Acts-We React, provide us with a good starting place for this 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Why so? Perhaps because they are filled with both action and reaction.
First, let us consider God’s action. In his book, First Comes Love (pp.4), theologian Scott Hahn notes that “when Christians and Jews tell the story of the human race, they begin ‘in the beginning,’ with God’s creation of a man named Adam.” Given that in Hebrew, the word Adam means humanity, we quickly see how God includes Adam in his active plans of creation within the Book of Genesis. Shortly thereafter, in recognizing Adam’s loneliness, God gives him Eve and instructs them to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” (Genesis 1:28) With years of salvation history ahead, the human race was off. With hills and mountains to climb, we who are God’s creation have done just that. But in our busy-ness, in our attempts to accomplish, the question is asked: For what, for whom?
Our first stop: A tent
In the first reading (Genesis 18:1-10), we are told that on a very hot day, Abraham is found seated at the entrance of his tent when three visitors arrive on the scene. Now over the centuries, many scripture scholars have speculated that these three visitors were angels while still others believe that one of the visitors was God himself who had desired this meeting with His chosen patriarch. Now for those of us with relatively good manners—especially on a hot and sweaty day—our first inclination might be to offer a simple hello and allow these visitors to pass. After all, given that time is precious and passing, there were likely many outstanding obligations requiring our attention. But this was not to be the case with Abraham! For immediately, Abraham waves them down, bows, and begins to tend to their needs. After offering to bathe their feet while they rest, Abraham then asks his servant to bring them food. Following Abraham’s reaction and acts of hospitality, the three begin to question him regarding the whereabouts of his wife, Sarah. While pointing that she was in the tent, one of the visitors declares that in one year, Sarah will bear a son.
Our next stop: A village in Bethany
Now many years removed from Abraham and the three guests, the Gospel of Luke (9:51) informs us that Jesus was on a journey to Jerusalem and had decided to spend some time in the Village of Bethany, where Martha and Mary lived. After being welcomed into their home (Luke 10:38-42), we find Jesus seated in their living room. And it is though two realities were unfolding at the very same time. With God having entered into their midst, Martha, the active, is juxtaposed against Mary, the contemplative. I’ve often imagined this scene and pictured Jesus seated in a chair and observing patiently the way Martha had chosen to serve Him and Mary affectionately and reflectively placed herself before Him. In a certain sense, Martha was actively serving God, while Mary was faithfully obeying the Psalm (46:10): “Be still, and know that I am God.” While grateful for what Martha and Mary have done for Him, Jesus nevertheless declares that…”Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”
Our final stop: Our own life
Given the experiences of Abraham, Martha, and Mary, may we understand that Jesus recognizes the necessity of both the active and contemplative in our lives, as well. After all, He did instruct us regarding the Greatest Commandment (Mt 22:36-40): “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”
In returning to that book title, God Acts-We React, it is true that God has set in motion an unending rhythm in our lives. By loving us into existence, God has made time—for us! In each moment of our daily lives, whether busy or not, may we know that God is always there and seeks to inform us, reassure us, touch us, and love us. Yes, God has made time for us. On this day and every day after, may we also make time for Him.