In the fullness of time

Tom Bartolomeo
16th Sunday Ordinary C 2013
Genesis 18, 1-10a; Psalm 15;
Colossians 1: 24-28; Luke 10: 38-42
Reproduced with Permission

"The Lord appeared to Abraham by the terebinth of Marmre, as he sat in the entrance of his tent, while the day was growing hot" (Genesis 18, 1). ("While the day was growing hot" a familiar experience these days.) This part of the story of Abraham, as you heard, began when Abram caught sight of three strangers who were mysteriously "standing by" whom he offered his hospitality. Surprisingly, one of the men asked about Abram's wife, Sarah, the name which God had earlier told Abram Sarai would be called after she had borne Abram a son when Abram's name would also be changed to Abraham, the father of many nations. Abram and Sarai at the time, however, quietly laughed about the prophesy given their advanced age. God had, however, predicted Abram's and Sarai reaction and told them that they would name the son they would have son, Isaac, which means laughter. Don't say that God does not have a sense of humor.

Many of you may be disappointed reading these Bible stories expecting more detail such as I have just given you which is not contained on the written page. In reading the individual lives of the people of the Bible we need to approach these stories as plays, scripts of a drama where our imaginations fill in the individual expressions and actions as players in a drama would do. Originally, these stories were told to be heard and not read. The reader as the playwright intended would bring to his recitation a certain animation and emphasis bringing the script to life. The stories of the Old Testament were told over and over again allowing the audience to reconstruct the scenes and the actions of the stories, again, as actors in a play would do. They were stories which were passed on from one tribe and one family to another before the invention of a written language. The written word would not appear until the time of Moses hundreds of years later, but even then the finer details of these biblical stories depended upon the lively imaginations of those who heard the stories, those whom Jesus said had "those who have ears let them hear" when he told them his stories, his parables, such as the one we heard last Sunday, the "Parable of the Good Samaritan". (cf. Luke 10, 25-37).

All that we know about Sarai before this scene - she was the wife of Abram and "barren". (cf. Genesis 11, 27 ff). But God had promised Abram that he would father a nation as numerous as the dust of the earth and later as the stars in the sky. No mention was made of Abram's and Sarai's disappointment that they could not have children and what strained effect this may have had on their marriage. Abram certainly knew that God knew that Sarai was barren. Still Abram trusted God's word even though it took Sarai twenty five years and when God repeated his promise fifteen years before she would conceive a child at the age of ninety and Abram at one hundred years. Sarai, however, when God had pledged a second time they would have a son she convinced Abram that God meant that they should have a child with Sarai's maidservant, Hagar, who then bore Abram a son, Ishmael. But that was not God's intention. Sarah and Abraham fourteen years later had a son of their own, Isaac. Eventually, because of the obvious conflict of heirs, Abraham decided that Ishmael and his mother must leave Abraham's family and move away. None of that, however, tells us anything about the character of Abraham, a man "justified by faith", we are told. We would need to hear more to understand this man of faith, this "father of the faith" we commemorate in the Mass. The detail that Abram who "sat in the entrance of his tent" was not some throw away line, nor was it insignificant that Mary who sat at Jesus' feet in the gospel story "had", in Jesus' words, "chosen the better part" compared to her sister, Martha. "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing", Jesus said. "Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her." (Luke 10, 41-42). Coincidentally, that should be the "better part" of what we should do to keep holy the Sabbath, today.

A student recently emailed me and complained, how "crazy busy" he was. I emailed that he should think through the important matters of his life and avoid any 'craziness' like Martha in the gospel story. Why should we ever be so "busy", so compulsive in what we do that we lose our way. Pope Benedict XVI had once written that there is no "compulsion in religion." (a lecture given by the Holy Father at the University of Regensburg, 12 September 2006). We have "ears to hear" as Jesus said unless we are "too busy." Recall last Sunday's gospel story about the Good Samaritan and the scholar of the law who couldn't connect his love of God with his love of neighbor? Hopefully, he began to understand with the story Jesus told him. Remember the others in the story, the priest and the Levite, both professional men like the scholar, who passed by the wounded man on the opposite side of the road hurrying off to what, I don't know. People who complain that they are too busy and pass by opportunities to help others including strangers and adversaries have a problem in God's mind. But for all the work that Jesus did he was never compulsive. When Jesus had cured the paralytic at Peter's house he left late in the evening to pray and relax. Peter like Martha had chased Jesus down complaining that there were people still waiting for him at his house. Jesus smiled, I suspect, and then said, "We must go to other villages."

(Mark 1, 29 ff). Jesus' life was dedicated to the salvation of souls not to granting people special favors such as the crowd of four thousand on the hillside had demanded after Jesus had fed them and they tried to seize him and make him their king.

A person can be drawn into so many busy activities that he or she may neglect the needs of family and others he passes by without noticing. I am not advocating laziness or indecision, just the opposite. We need to know that our work can bear fruit but may require that we "shake the dust off our shoes" as Jesus advised when our work makes no difference and we move on to more spiritually fruitful labor. (Luke 10, 10-11). Saint Paul for all of his accomplishments never tired of his work for the Lord which is so beautifully expressed in his letter to the Colossians.

Brothers and sisters, Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church, of which I am a minister . . . to bring to completion for you the word of God, the mysteries hidden from ages and from generations past.

The Apostle admitted that he had failed in his work with the Jews, left them and chose to bring salvation to the Gentiles, pagans whom most Jews despised. "To whom", he said, "God choose to make known the riches of the glory of . . . Christ in you . . . that we may present everyone perfect in Christ." We, too, are called to live our lives with enthusiasm (which literally means God with us).