Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

Homily: July 18, 2010 – Getting Close to God


16 Sunday Ordinary Time – July 18, 2010 – Getting Close to God
Gn 18:1-10a, Ps 15:2-3, 3-4, 5, Col 1:24-28, Lk 10:38-42

Today’s complete biblical texts

In the 2010 Tony Award winning drama Red by John Logan there is a scene where the painter Mark Rothko is asking his young assistant Ken “what do you see” in this painting? As the young man began to answer, Rothko interrupted.

“Wait. Stand closer. You’ve got to get close … Let it work on you … Let it wrap its arms around you; let it embrace you … Let the picture do its work … but work with it. Meet it half way for God’s sake! Lean forward, lean into it. Engage with it!… Now, what do you see?” [1]

Maybe we can apply the same promptings to our relationships with God and one another. How close are we willing to get to God; to let God embrace us; so we can engage God? And, what happens to us when we do get close? Liturgical scholar Nathan Mitchell writes about the danger of getting too close to God.

“Christian worship invites us to see and hear God in the soiled language of humankind. If this offends us, it is only because we usually prefer to keep God at a distance. God is, after all, not only holy, good and beautiful but supremely dangerous as well. One, whose primal word is nothing more or less than a quivering human life, is dangerously close.” [2]

The bible is full of stories about how God intervenes in our lives. Sometimes God relies on others to make God’s presence known to us. That’s what happened in the first reading with the annunciation of the birth of Isaac to a bewildered Abraham and barren Sarah. When the three messengers from God got close what happened? Abraham and Sarah, who was working in the back of the tent, offered the strangers hospitality.

There’s no limit to the ways God gets close to us — in times of joy and trouble; through friends and even enemies. When God knocks on our doors we might find a stranger there — an abused, oppressed, trafficked, hunted, hungry, homeless person — standing there gaping at us. The message being delivered might be a difficult one for us to accept. How do we respond? Will we offer hospitality? How close are we willing to get?

Look at Martha and Mary in the gospel. What was their response when Jesus came knocking on their door? Martha offered him hospitality and then went to work in the kitchen. Meanwhile, Mary, the younger woman, sits on the floor next to Jesus perhaps to learn how to become one of his followers. Women in that culture had no power, no authority. They lived in the shadows of men. Like the woman who crashed the party in the gospel a couple of weeks ago (Luke 7:36-50), Mary in today’s passage broke a boundary and Jesus said she chose the better part and it will not be taken from her. It’s not that Martha was wrong to work in the kitchen. Martha and Mary were gracious hosts in different ways. Mary, however, boldly dared to get close to Jesus and, you know what happened? He embraced her.

Breaking boundaries for women today both in society and in our church is a never ending matter of justice. The psalmist today sang out and so did we, “The one who does justice will live in the presence of God.” To live in the presence of God; to embrace and engage with God is bound to upset the status quo … like Jesus did. In this context, it is very difficult to comprehend the recent updating of the Vatican’s list of grievous sins, which says that women seeking ordination or clergy who are compliant are as sinful as those who prey upon and abuse minors or disrespect the holy Eucharist or misuse the sacrament of reconciliation. The list is puzzling for those who seek justice for women.

The second reading reminds us that Jesus atoned for the injustices, the inequities, in the world by his cross. The invitation to share what that cross symbolizes has been made to you and me. Sometimes we get confused by what it means to pick up the cross. It doesn’t mean we must suffer physical pain in doing so. Who among us would wear a crown of thorns; to be nailed to a cross? However, we are called to recognize, to name, to embrace the suffering and oppression that the cross represents. Can we think of the cross in the way Rothko talked about his painting? Get close to it, embrace it, let it embrace you. Can we respond to the injustices by greeting and treating everyone with the hospitality made possible by the cross.

Will our efforts see results overnight? Not much at all. Listen to Mark Rothko again. He said to his apprentice, “Most of painting is thinking …. Ten percent is putting paint onto the canvas. The rest is waiting.”

We think a lot about what it means to be a Christian, a Catholic, in the world today. That’s why we gather in this holy place — to worship God and wrestle with human issues. We are taught to pray and be good to others. Splash the canvas with paint of faith, hope and love, if you will, and then wait. Wait. Know that good things will happen. Just wait.

1 Logan, John. Red. (London: Oberon Books, 2009) Excerpted.

2 Nathan Mitchell, “The Spirituality of Christian Worship” in Spirituality Today (March 1982, Vol. 34, No. 1, pp. 5-17) Excerpted.


Author: Richard S. Vosko

Richard S. Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, is an internationally known sacred space planner. He is a presbyter in the Diocese of Albany who enjoys the classroom as much as the pulpit. On Sundays he presides at worship at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY. For more information on Vosko’s background, his projects, publications and speaking engagements please go to his website. For his homilies and occasional musings about religion, art and architecture go to his blog. Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcomed there.

7 thoughts on “Homily: July 18, 2010 – Getting Close to God

  1. Dear Father ,
    I was very pleased with your homily today.
    I often wonder how to tell how close one is to God.
    Thanks. Chris


  2. Rothko’s words are all about how to be present to the moment, mindful of what is before us, and teaching Ken how to be aware. I think that is the message of the readings as well. Abraham saw the three men coming, and focused his attention on them; Mary was present to Jesus and mindful of him being in their house. While Sarah and Martha were hospitable, while they were responding and acting, and this is admirable, I think, first, that God wants us to recognize the presence of God in the situation before we start “doing”. Rothko gives us hints on how to be present to the God who is in every moment, waiting for us to be present to what is happening. Awareness…then we respond by doing…

    Great homily; great quotes from Red and Mitchell. Makes me want to learn more about Red, and see the drama. Thanks,again, for your nourishing words.


  3. Dick,

    I love the image of leaning into God – embracing and being embraced. I think that this relationship is the only way that will help us to know how to proceed on the journey of faith, a journey that gives us light for one step at a time.

    Let us splash acts of faith, hope and love on the canvas of life! I am sure that God will do beautiful things with our efforts.

    Thanks for your reflections.



  4. This is wonderful. I have been reflecting on these texts in a different way this year… Today I left Ellis Hospital after a 12 day stay which included some emergency surgery. I have not been as “still” in life as God perhaps invites me to. Well, that has changed, for the moment. What does the invitation hold?


  5. There’s a beautiful visual tool to aid meditation in yoga known as the Shri Yantra. It’s shape comes from a series of interlocking triangles – some with their points upward, some downward. A first glance it appears symmetrical, but on closer inspection there are more downward than upward points. The message?..It’s simply that for every step we take toward God, God reaches out even more powerfully towards us. Thank you for the reminder that we must not only take the steps which bring us closer, but we must also then surrender so that grace is free to flow into us.
    Your words today give me hope that that grace can heal even the most hardened hearts. Peace.


  6. So very strange. It is as if this year this whole story of Martha and Mary is taking an altogether different turn, so much more healing than anything else I had read or thought before. Thank you then for this. Thank you for Fran as well who pointed me here.


  7. A very thought provoking piece and much more than the tired Martha/Mary homilies of the past. Thank you.


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