Sunday, July 21, 2013


16th Sunday in Ordinary Time  
Gn 18:1-10a
Ps 15 2-5
Col 10:24-28
Lk 10:38-42

Dick Clifford notes in his commentary on the responsorial psalm that Psalm 15 verses 2 to 5 contains ten descriptors of the ideal worshipper.  One could say that these verses contain ten descriptors of the ideal behavior for all persons.  This very short psalm--we are only missing the first verse--is a description of authentically religious individuals whose actions reflect their belief.  It describes those who fulfill the admonition attributed to Francis of Assisi, "Preach the Gospel at all times.  Use words only when necessary." The psalm ends with the promise, "One who does these things shall never be disturbed" or, in another translation, "will never be shaken."  There is no good reason to argue with that conclusion.

The challenges put forth by this psalm are daunting.  How many of us consistently do justice?  How many of us enthusiastically slander others under the guise of gossip or idle chatter? I suspect most of us breathe easily at the proscription against lending money at usury, though some of the quid pro quo situations we create with others are usurious in their own ways.  The psalm describes positive and negative attributes of acting virtuously.  It may surprise some who argue that there are no moral absolutes or necessary virtues that the characteristics of the virtuous individual are not unique to Judaeo-Christianity. 

Jesus elaborated on this list from Psalm 15 in numerous places in the New Testament when he described the virtuous action.  Consider for example his demand to the rich young man to sell all he owned and then to follow him.  Virtuous to be sure.  But not easy. 

The Analects of Confucius give a description of virtuous behavior that almost echoes Psalm 15.  Confucius lived from around 550 to 473 BC.  Scholars think the Analects achieved their final written form some around 350 years before Jesus' birth. One reads the following in Book XII Chapter II:  Chung-kung asked about perfect virtue.  The Master said, "It is when you go abroad, to behave to every one as if you were receiving a great guest; to employ the people as if you were assisting at a great sacrifice; not to do to others as you would not wish done to yourself; to have no murmuring against you in the country and none in the family."  Chung-kung said, "Though I am deficient in intelligence and vigor I will make it my business to practice this lesson." 

I like Chung-kung because, after hearing what perfect virtue entails he admitted in essence, 'I am a sinner but I will try.'  We are in the same boat, deficient in intelligence on how to act and weak when confronted with less-than-virtuous options.  In the context the first reading and the Gospel it is apparent that Abraham was much closer to virtuous behavior than was Martha, no matter if one uses the psalm or Confucius as the yardstick. 

Abraham was certainly a master of understatement.  "Let me bring you a little food that you may refresh yourselves."  A little food?  Rolls.  Beef.  Curds and milk.  It seems as if there was quite a bit of exertion put into preparing this little bit of food.  And then he hovered over his unknown guests, waiting on them, until the meal was over.  No mention of complaining how hard he was working, or how much he was spending or anything else. 

Martha, for her part, blew it.  While there is much allegorical interpretation of this narrative along the lines of the difference between the contemplative and active vocation, the story itself comes across as a slice of life that remains relevant today.  Unlike Abraham, who was almost obsequious to his guests, Martha committed a serious breech of etiquette when she tried to drag a guest into what seems to be sibling rivalry flare-up.  It is difficult to imagine anyone asking a guest to tell that sister of mine to get in here and help me instead of listening to you?  The most essential component of hospitality is to pay attention to the comfort of the guest, precisely what Abraham did and Martha failed to do. 

Martha and Mary are not either/or:  Be preoccupied with service or attend to the words of Jesus.  We are called to serve AND to hear the words of Jesus.  Contemplative religious life must entail some element of action and active religious life demands a degree of contemplation.  The challenge for all of us, religious or lay, active or contemplative, old or young, is to place the burdens that confront us on a daily basis in their proper perspective so that we can hear the words of Jesus in the midst of our busy-ness.  It is not always easy but it is, like the admonitions in the psalm and in Confucius, an ideal toward which we must strive.  Our reward for such striving was limned in the Gospel acclamation:

"Blessed are they who have kept the word with a generous heart and yield a harvest through perseverance."

The heat and humidity have finally broken.  Alas, there was no rain.  The grass is getting a tad beige.  Last Sunday was an almost perfect day.  It rained at some point Saturday night.  All of the flowers in the planter were bedecked with rain drops.  I spent about 45 minutes  wandering around with my camera both in the house and around the planter.  The results are below. 

"Up on the roof."  The elevator is done.  We are awaiting the state inspection before it can be put into use.  The old parts were still on the roof last week.  

Down in the lounge the chessboard was sitting beneath a window.  Definitely a b&w photo rather than color.  I call it The Bishop and His Deacon.
The flowers were particularly lovely.  In the past week the searing heat has done a real job on them. 

I learned a new technique on Aperture 3.  Here is the first attempt. 
Two bees were busy gathering pollen. 
And now we have the reason for photography.  A blue dragonfly was teasing me.  The first shows it on the concrete near a flower petal.  This one has to be cropped as I took it while standing.  The other shows the same dragonfly a few minutes later perched on a daisy.  No cropping, no manipulation at all.  This is how it came out of the camera.  I think I am inordinately pleased with myself for these two (he said as he rubbed his nails on his lapel.)

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

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