Today’s Gospel is one of my favorites. Luke tells us the story of Zacchaeus. Most of us know by now that Zacchaeus has seemingly sold his tax-collector soul the Romans, and was much hated by his neighbors in Jericho. He knows Jesus is passing through town and for whatever reason – to hide from him, or to see him, Zacchaeus gets up in those branches. I always imagine Danny DeVito playing the role if a movie were ever made! Can’t you just see it?
Jesus, being Jesus obviously spots Zacchaeus. Instead of castigating him as an outcast and sinner, instead of ignoring him or denying him, he does the typically unthinkable Jesus thing and says:
“Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”
Poor Martha, I feel for her – I’m pretty sure that most women do. She’s frustrated in today’s Gospel because while she is working her rear end off, her sister Mary is sitting there at Jesus’ feet listening, learning, adoring.
Did you ever notice how often we see rivalries played out in Scripture, even among those who love one another? I am guessing that this struggle between the sisters is not a new phenomenon. This particular struggle always intrigues me though, because so many of us get ourselves in a twist because we feel like we are doing more work than someone else. Also, we tend to want to explore the tale as a binary one, good-bad, black-white, right-wrong, winner-loser. Jesus always has other ways for us to understand everything in ways we do not typically imagine.
It might appear that Jesus declares Mary the winner for choosing “the better portion.” That does not make Martha the loser. What Jesus seems to be offering Martha is an invitation to sit down and spend some time with him, not to admonish her, but to bring her closer.
So many of us suffer from the need to be “doing” something all the time. This summer I have spent more time than usual on my deck reading a book – or doing nothing but contemplate the beautiful world around me. It has been heavenly. Typically I am filling my days with this and that, having always been a poor budgeter of time, among other things. Busy-ness can seem to quell our anxiety, and I do know that is a big thing for me. Quiet time allows my fears and worries to creep in. Also, due to that poor budgeting of everything, I sometimes fritter time away with busy-ness of a non-essential sort, only to have to dive into the rush of things that need to be done. It is an endless cycle of the white noise of movement. And it keeps me from God.
On top of everything else, we live in a culture based on ever increasing productivity and efficiency. Achieving things is the source of pride, a lack of it a source of shame. Sitting at the feet of the Lord might not seem the best use of time. It might seem otherwise to Jesus however, as he notes to Martha regarding Mary. Even in church the temptation to “do” more is evident and it seems like a form giving. It is indeed a form of giving, but the trick is to discern the balance of doing and being. That is a tough spot to discover, but one we might all well spend some time seeking out.
For what it is worth, our first reading tells us the story of Abraham and the visitors. As he welcomes them and sits with them, everyone else, his wife Sarah included, is busy in the background, unseen by the guests. This scene offers us an interesting prelude to Mary and Martha, the story of those busy “working” and those who sit at the feet of angels or God. In this tale, it would appear that everyone busily at work is there because Abraham set them in motion. One of the visitors asks about Sarah, and offers a mysterious statement about returning in a year, when she will have born a child.
In the end we are left with our own discernment of our relationship with God and with how we spend our time. Who among us cares to think about how all we have to do in order for God to love us is to simply be… What a thought! Yet that is at the very heart of Luke’s Gospel and the message of Christ. That’s not an order to stop accomplishing things, we all have some kind of work to do. It is however something to hold in heart and mind as we contemplate our relationship to God and to one another.
What choices will we make going forward? Can we sit still and participate in a holy gaze of love, heart and ears open and available to God alone? It is not easy to choose to do this “not-doing” but what might we miss if we stay in the kitchen.
(As I wrote this I kept hearing this Beatles song in my head, so I will include it along with the lyrics. It obviously influenced how I titled the post!)
Martha, my dear Though I spend my days in conversation, please Remember me Martha, my love Don’t forget me Martha, my dear
Hold your head up, you silly girl Look what you’ve done When you find yourself in the thick of it Help yourself to a bit of what is all around you Silly girl
Take a good look around you Take a good look you’re bound to see That you and me were meant to be With each other Silly girl
Hold you’re hand out, you silly girl See what you’ve done When you find yourself in the thick of it Help yourself to a bit of what is all around you Silly girl
Martha, my dear You have always been my inspiration Please, be good to me Martha, my love Don’t forget me Martha, my dear.
Jesus is very clear about one thing in today’s Gospel and if I am honest, it makes me super anxious. I wrote a reflection about this in the current Give Us This Day, but honestly, I just reread the Gospel and it has me in a twist all over again.
We must renounce all of our possessions. I look around our house and think about how much stuff I would love to get rid of, but then I am very slow to actually do so. Sure, I read the articles and books that tell me to spend 15 minutes a day doing one thing. 15 minutes? Are you joking? It would take me a lot more than 15 minutes to figure out where to begin. While I have ditched many an object over the past few years, including letting go of a ton of books, I still have too much stuff. It is a slow work in progress.
Then I think about what Jesus might want me to renounce along with the multitude of books, tchotchkes, and more. What can I declutter from my soul itself? What thoughts, feelings, and more possess me, making no space for Christ himself? That will be the much more difficult portion of renouncing, that much I already know.
This of course is the greatest challenge, to let go of what possesses us both in soul and spirit as well as in our material lives. What a work in progress this is, one I will wrestle with forever. When I think about it I can see clearly that all I need is God, but when I look around I see that I have a lot of baggage that grew out of my wants. Until I dislodge the possessions of obsession, inaction, and distraction, this is going to be a difficult journey…
Ever since I returned from Camino Santiago on October 31, I have found myself at loose ends. First of all, the return from the pilgrim life and back into the quotidian routine is startling. I am reminded of cycles of birth and death – I imagine being birthed is a shock to our tiny bodies, but we adjust, and God willing, thrive. As we do not know of death until we get there, our faith informs us of another passage which may be shocking at first, but one that I believe will be… well, I have no words, but glorious comes to mind.
Anyway, I feel like I have either been born or died, I cannot figure out which one. Born in the sense that I feel ever more a child of God, totally dependent and unable to Continue reading →
Sir, here is your gold coin; I kept it stored away in a handkerchief, for I was afraid of you, because you are a demanding man –Luke 19:20-21
God has given all of us treasure to watch over. What do you do with ours? Do we find ways to put that treasure into the world, so that it may multiply? Or do we hold on to it out of fear of doing something incorrect with it?
Our treasure can come in the form of riches, talent or ability, or simply time. Do we do nothing, or very little, because we are we afraid of displeasing God more than we are invested in serving God?
Today’s Gospel has a simple message enfolded in the words of the parable… Be bold, fear not. Use what God has left in our care, make it multiply. This is not meant to be taken in a literal way, suggesting that it is simply about money. This goes deeper, much deeper. It is about the depths of our hearts.
Maybe the real message is this. Go into the world today. Be bold, fear not. How can we do this in our world full of fear and terror? Or perhaps the better question is this – how can we not do this in our world full of fear and terror.
Let us all pray to discern and make good choices today, even if they seem to be in the smallest of steps. Be bold in Jesus’ name, fear not. It is only in this way the treasure multiplies, always in, and through, and for God.
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