21 Jul 2013
“‘Mary has chosen the better part …’” (Luke 10:42) In the name …
So if I’m sitting in the kitchen with Sharon, or even if I’m sitting by myself, and I hear Kristin or Amanda coming down the stairs, I’ll say in a loud enough whisper for them to hear, “Shh, here she comes.” There’s nothing like fomenting a little paranoia in your children just for the fun of it. Some people seem to think of religion along this kind of line, that there are secrets God the Father only whispers to some and not to others. I was, for example, once having a polite conversation about something to do with church with a very nice, normal woman, when she started to talk about some rather strange religious thoughts. When I told her I just didn’t understand, she looked at me knowingly and said, “You’re a priest. You know what I’m talking about.” It was almost like she should have said it with a wink of the eye. There is, I guess, this secret religious knowledge that priests and a special few know about. For her it really is like God the Father whispering, “Shh, here they come.”
The story is told of a man driving down a road when he breaks down near a seminary. He goes to the seminary, knocks on the door, and says, “My car broke down. Do you think I could stay the night?” The priests graciously accept him, feed him dinner, and even fix his car. As the man tries to fall asleep, he hears one of the most beautiful, enchanting sounds he could ever have imagined. The next morning, he asks the priests what the sound was, but they say, “We can't tell you. You're not a priest.” The man says, ‘All right. I'm dying to know. If the only way I can find out what that sound is, is to become a priest, I want to become one.”
After several years of study and prayer, the man is Ordained and finally the other priests lead him to a wooden door, where he is told the sound is behind that door. The man reaches for the knob, but the door is locked. He asks, “May I have the key?” The priests give him the key, and he opens the door. Behind the wooden door is another door made of stone. The man requests the key to the stone door. The priests give him the key, and he opens it, only to find a door made of ruby. He asks another key from the priests, who provide it. Behind that door is another door, this one made of sapphire. And so it went until the man had gone through doors of emerald, silver, and topaz. Finally, the priests say, “‘This is the key to the last door.” He unlocks the door, turns the knob, and behind that door he is astonished to find the source of that strange, beautiful and heavenly sound. It is a truly amazing, awe-inspiring, and unbelievable sight … But I can't tell you what it is because you're not priests. The real life story and this make-believe one both resonate because when it comes to religion, whether to the front of our minds or hiding way to the back, a lot of people hold the idea of God the Father whispering, “Shh, they’re coming.”
As a matter of fact, one of the earliest distortions of the Christian gospel was based on this idea of the religious secret. It was called Gnosticism. You may have heard of it. It’s still around the fringe of Christianity today. Gnostics could not believe that Christianity was as open and available as it was. They thought that the gospel was in some sort of code. The simple believers listened and only heard the words, but the Gnostics listened and heard the code. Some of that stuff is still around today on the internet. People send me emails, for example, about the message literally embedded at the center of the Bible. Others show pictures of shadows on Judean mountains that point to the end of the world. Remember a couple of years ago the minister from California who figured out the code for the date of the end of the world. People believed him and sold everything they owned. We’re still here.
But God doesn’t whisper, “Shh, they’re coming.” Instead, God comes into our world for everyone to see and hear in Jesus. And God charges the church to do the opposite of whisper. We are to proclaim Jesus to the very ends of the earth. We’re out in the open, figuratively and even literally today. Listen to what was written to the earliest Christians in the city of Colossae. The proclamation of the church, says the Epistle, “brings to completion for you the word of God.” (1:25) We’re continuing to do what Jesus did, in other words. But then some people hear God saying, “Shh they’re coming,” when it next says: “[Which is] The mystery hidden from ages and from generations past, but now it has been manifested to His holy ones, to whom God chose to make known …” (1:26-27) and it goes on from there. You almost can hear the message of a secret made known only to a select few, but then comes the next verse which says we proclaim Jesus to everyone and teach everyone so that everyone may be made perfect in Christ. (1:28) Three times everyone is repeated for emphasis.
Religion has mysteries, not secrets. We’re church not the Da Vinci Code. The reason we can too often confuse the two is not because God is whispering “Shh they’re coming,” but because we don’t give religion the chance to reveal itself to us. That’s the message behind today’s Gospel. Martha was just too busy to give herself the time to sit and listen to Jesus. Imagine how she felt after the Ascension when she could no longer hear His voice. Did she even remember what she prepared for their meal or what so desperately needed to be set on the table so that she chose not to listen as Jesus spoke? How she must have wished to have had the opportunity back. We need to learn from Martha’s mistake and we need to imitate Mary’s choice. We need to make time for Jesus to speak to us no matter how busy our lives may be. He’s not saying “Shh” to us. We’re saying “Shh” to Him.
Being outdoors reinforces the message that Christ is everywhere. The choice of music that is not necessarily church hymns reinforces the message that God is everywhere. Being in church outdoors and listening to music that doesn’t have to say out loud the name of Jesus reinforces the message that church can be anywhere. Let us make the time to listen for God’s word, to see God’s presence. The great mystery is that there are no secrets, that in Christ God is open to us and waiting for us. Let us pray that we choose to make time for Him to discover His mysteries not His secrets. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo