Stop! Look! Listen! Someone is trying to tell you something
Oh, that today you would hear his voice: Harden not your hearts.—PSALM 95:7–8
Reading has clicked for my little granddaughter, and she is very proud of her new skill. She reads everything—cereal boxes, ads that come in the mail, road signs. This morning I was pondering this column as we drove through town, and as we approached the railroad tracks, she startled me by shouting, “STOP! LOOK! LISTEN!” I did. And then I explained to her the dangers of shouting at the driver.
Jesus cried out such a warning sometimes. He often prefaced life-changing statements—“No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit,” for example—with “Amen, amen, I say to you” (Jn 3:5).
We need something like that in the Gospel Acclamation at Mass. Because we’re about to hear something life-changing. Because if we don’t pay attention, we could be in danger. Because someone we profess to love suffered on a cross to teach us the truth about God and the godly life.
Errands finished, we’re back home and cuddled on the couch, each with our laptops. As I always do when preparing to write these columns, I read through the Sunday Gospel passages for the month. This time two passages stand out, perhaps because I’ve heard them so often and know them so well—or think I do—that I don’t pay close enough attention when they’re read at Mass. But today I hear them differently as I think, Stop! Look! Listen!
On Sunday, July 18, we’ll hear the familiar story of Jesus’ visit to the home of his friends Martha and Mary. (See Lk 10:38–42.) This passage is irritating if you’re a Martha-like person trying to keep a clean house, serve a good meal, and attend to the needs of guests. Martha is all that, while her little sister sits enthralled at the feet of Jesus.
Jesus responds to Martha’s complaining with the equivalent of, “Stop your unnecessary activity, Martha! Look at what you’re missing—I’m Jesus, your friend and savior! Listen to me now, because I won’t always be with you.”
We don’t know how Martha reacted to Jesus’ words. Many homilists and Scripture commentators assume she felt reproved, but isn’t it just as possible she felt a stunning sense of liberation? Perhaps she threw off her apron and said, “Move over, Mary, I want to listen too! We’ll eat leftovers!”
The week before, July 11, we’ll hear the equally familiar parable of the Good Samaritan. (See Lk 10:25–37.) In response to the lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbor?,” Jesus tells the story of the robbery victim and the people who pass him by, too busy with their own affairs to stop and help. The one who does stop is a Samaritan, the enemy of the Jew. The message couldn’t be more pointed. We may know that loving God and neighbor is what we need to gain eternal life, but our knowledge and religiosity are worth little if we don’t put them into practice when there is need.
I like to think I’d be the Samaritan, but sadly, I’m afraid I’m the one who would walk on by, maybe murmuring a quick Hail Mary for the unfortunate victim. The fact is, I am a Martha-ish person. I like to stick to my agenda. I make a plan for the day to write, and I don’t like it when childcare plans fall through or a friend calls who needs a ride to the doctor or…whatever.
When I remember—and I’m getting better at this—I try to treat an interruption as a message and ask, “What is it, Jesus? Show me where you are in this.” Often that’s just where I find him—in the interruptions, the illness, the lost job, the person on the path who needs me—if I can just remember to Stop! Look! Listen!
Paige Byrne Shortal writes from her home in rural Missouri. Contact her and read her weekly meditation at www.paigebyrneshortal.com.