Posted July 23, 2013
A successful businessman was zipping along through a residential district in his new Jaguar, at a somewhat reckless speed, when he heard a thud that told him something had hit his car door. He skidded to a stop, backed up, and found a brick in the street—the obvious cause of the ugly dent in his car door. Just then a young lad emerged from between the parked cars—obviously the culprit. “Did you throw this brick at my car?” demanded the driver.
“Yes, sir,” he said. “And I’m really sorry, but I had to throw the brick, ‘cause I couldn’t get any car to stop by waving at them. They were all going by too fast. I need someone to help me with my little brother; he fell out of his wheel chair going over the curb. He’s paralyzed and now he’s bleeding and I can’t pick him up to put him back into his wheel chair.”
The driver’s anger dissolved suddenly into compassion, as he lifted the slightly injured child back into his wheel chair, guiding it back to the sidewalk. As the lad hurriedly pushed his brother homeward for first-aid attention, he shouted back to the driver, ‘Thank you, Sir. Sorry about the car. God bless you!”
The driver never had the dent repaired; he left it as his constant reminder that as we humans recklessly speed through life, focused on our own petty interests and desires, God sometimes “throws a brick at us”—some distressing hardship—to restore an awareness of what is truly urgent or important in our life. We need to be reminded to prioritize our goals in life—first things first!
Putting first things first—prioritizing our life—is the theme of the Martha-Mary episode in Luke’s Gospel (Ch. 10). Jesus highlights this basic theme with his response to Martha’s complaint: “Mary had chosen what is most important” for us as Christians—followers of Christ—namely, cultivating a personal encounter with him. Paul tells us (2 Cor. 13:5) to test ourselves regarding our basic faith commitment; he says we will fail the test as authentic Christians if our life is not ultimately and primarily Christ-focused. In a former encounter, Mary, a converted prostitute, touched by Jesus’ gentle mercy, was so Christ-focused that she party-crashed another’s home to anoint Jesus’ feet with perfume.
Like Mary, Martha too was Christ-enamored, as she arduously prepared the meal for her guest of honor; both Luke and John chronicle that fact. Jesus rebuked Martha, not for her urgent work and loving care in preparing the meal, but for her hectic freneticism in doing so. Jesus told her that she was “worried and upset about many things.” Mary’s hospitality in not leaving Jesus alone was different and more sublime than Martha’s. Mary, mesmerized by Jesus’ loving words, chose a priority not to be abrogated by Martha’s lesser one.
Jesus was a supreme champion of prioritizing life. He showed the rank materialism of godless pagans lacking a sense of true priority, worrying about what they’re going to eat or wear. Our heavenly Father knows we have need of all these things, he reminds us, “but seek FIRST his kingdom and holiness, and all these things will be given you” (Matt. 6:33). We must seek first his kingdom (“thy kingdom come”) and the universal holiness that is to characterize that planned end-time kingdom—the holiness attained by conforming to his will (“thy will be done”). God’s priority thus becomes ours. Can you think of a stronger way of illustrating priority than the words of Jesus: “What does it profit a man if he gains the entire world and yet suffers the loss of his immortal soul?”
Prioritizing our goals in life is simply to be more inspired by Mary’s insight than Martha’s “distracted” (and perhaps stressful) preoccupation with the less important things. It is crucial to our very authenticity as Christians for us to take that test that Paul urges in 2 Corinthians 13. Keep in mind his dire warning that deviation from an over-all pervasive Christ-focus in our daily life means that we flunk the test of our faith. If we’re ruthlessly honest, all of us need to admit that our priorities need upgrading—something seldom, if ever, confessed in even the most fervent confession—itself a neglected priority.
Let’s start the test with a recent event—just a few minutes ago. You came into the church and genuflected before slipping into a pew. Was that genuflection a mechanical ritualistic meaningless action? Or was it a profound act of loving adoration of Jesus in this tabernacle in front of you? Was your faith operative and Christ-focused during that simple act of devotion, or distracted?
Try another priority test within very recent time frame. In reciting the Gloria of the Sunday Mass, do you really mean it when you say, “we praise you, bless you, adore you, glorify you, and give you thanks for your great glory”? Most Christians limit their prayer to petition (impetration), but seldom worship, adore, glorify, bless, praise, or even thank God in prayer. Petition is good, of course, since it shows our dependence as creatures on our Creator, but it’s the lowest form of prayer, and for most Christians the only form of prayer. The “gimme” mentality is a misplaced priority, making God merely a Santa Claus.
Consider the prayer you often recite–the Lord’s Prayer—a frequent test of your spiritual priorities. St. Thomas emphasizes the priority that Jesus exposited in teaching the Our Father: the first three petitions God-focused, the last four human focused. And notice how we distort this priority mentally in that very prayer, thinking, “My will be done, rather than Thy will be done.” Far from our priority is the transcendent triangle undergirding God’s Providence: the sovereignty (control) of God, his guiding wisdom and his love motivating it.
Our spiritual range of priorities is related to our spiritual maturity, referred to in James 1:4—a maturity calibrated by the amount of true joy that we are able to find in life’s sufferings, custom-designed for each of us and caused or permitted by God’s loving providence. It relates to our personal “value system”— by simply embracing the highest value in our hierarchy of values). That is, of course, the Christ-focus cited in 2 Corinthian 13. It takes on its deepest personal meaning by Paul when he rhapsodizes, in Galatians 2:20, “I live no longer I, but Christ lives in me!”…I live by faith in the Son of God.”
You’ve heard, I’m sure, the facetious quip of the man who complained, “Just when I had trained my donkey to go without food, he died of starvation!” If we allow our soul to become priority-starved—that is, deprived of Christ-focus, its true spiritual priority—and become preoccupied with Martha-like distractions and stressful secondary concerns in our daily living, don’t be surprised, if we end up spiritually starved to death. Attain and maintain priority!
John H. Hampsch, cmf