I was struck by the connection between the readings today. And, as much as I try to dodge it, the question raised continues to weigh on me-how do I encounter God?
Genesis tells us that when the Lord appeared to Abraham, he immediately ran to him, saying "Please do not pass your servant by." The text is filled with references to how intensely Abraham embraced the three men that appeared before him as if from out of nowhere. Now, I am not a Biblical scholar, but it seems to be evident that Abraham recognized the presence of God in these men. But even if these were simply God’s messengers, Abraham receives them with the great passion of the love of his God.
How does he greet his God? He offers to wash his feet, feed him and give him comfort from his journey. All this when he wasn’t even expecting him! He tells his wife to quickly whip something up for the weary travelers (like most wives, she obliges even though he might have asked a bit more politely). Abraham himself waits on the men, though he could have easily delegated their care to his many servants. So Abraham greets the Lord with generosity, hospitality, intimacy and great enthusiasm-to say the least.
Two thousand years later, we meet a very different man who seeks out Jesus along his journey with the disciples. Matthew tells of a centurion who comes to our Lord, "Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress." So great is the faith of this man-a Roman commander no less-that he doesn’t technically ask Jesus for help. He seems to know that just by telling him about the suffering that Jesus will answer his plea. Let’s not overlook the fact that this man risked who knows what kind of retribution from his countrymen for approaching Jesus with open faith. In fact, when Jesus offers to go to his home to see the servant, the centurion is taken aback, "Lord, I am not worthy." He had such great trust in Christ and such love for his servant that he went to Jesus with deep humility, earnestness and great devotion.
And what do these men receive in return for their faith in God? In the Genesis passage, our Lord leaves Abraham and Sarah with the news that she will be expecting a child. For the faithful centurion, Jesus tells him "Go; be it done for you as you have believed." In other words, miracles.
So, I come back to my original question. How do we encounter God? Do we greet him with expectant faith or guarded caution? Are we willing to show our faith to others who might not approve? Do we go to God with modesty? These are not easy questions and I think, for myself, the answers are different at different stages in my life. It’s tempting to be doubtful and uncertain about the power of God in our lives. When we see things in our lives that aren’t going as we hope, when we find ourselves in need of God’s grace, this is when we must have the greatest faith. Easier said than done, perhaps. But how else can we expect miracles?
Marlo Serritella ([email protected]) is on staff at the Holy Cross Province Development Office in Chicago.