Dramatic in the Ordinary

In the gospel for last Sunday,  a scribe approached Jesus and asked, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” All the centuries later, we Christian people know the answer. We know it well. The first commandment is to love – to love God with our entire being, all that we are, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We all know what to do…but… Everyone of us can easily think of our epic failures in fulfilling the first and greatest of the commandments. During the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a very common confession includes “failing to put God first.” If I ask what that means to the person it is often answered with accounts of falling short on love of God or neighbor. As I said, we all know what we are called to do. As challenging as it is, simply put, we are called to be all-in. How do we become “all-in”?

I often think about the old axiom that 10,000 hours of practice and experience are needed to become an expert in some activity. It is estimated that between the Rio and Tokyo Olympic Games, Katie Ledecky swam 30,000 miles – at her pace that’s about 10,000 hours. I think Ms. Ledecky qualifies as a master of her sport. The Tokyo stage was just the dramatic finale of all the ordinary, ho-hum hours of practice.

If there was ever an expertise to gain, on the top of my list should be moving from apprentice to master of the first and greatest commandment. Well… it is there. Maybe the problem is that I haven’t practiced it enough. And without the practice, I am barely an apprentice. And at that level, the question  arises: am I observant enough to see and be inspired by the first of the commandments in action during the ordinary, ho-hum events of life.

How about the story of the widow putting the last of her money, or as it says, she gave “her whole livelihood.” ..that’s pretty dramatic, yes? I don’t know. Donations to the Temple was an ordinary event. What made this donation dramatic?  I am pretty sure that the rich people did not notice the poor widow as they flamboyantly gave their offerings to the Temple. She was just another poor person giving a donation, right?

I wonder that if the disciples had been in the Temple on their own, not in the presence of Jesus, do you think they would have noticed the poor widow putting in her small coins into the Temple treasury? Was it a dramatic sight for them? In the very next verse after our Gospel, the disciples make it clear they are more interested in the magnificence of the Temple (Mark 13:1). Perhaps easily distracted by the next bright shiny thing.

But Jesus noticed. It was dramatic because there was the first of the commandments being played out in real-time. “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” 

Maybe the difference between the dramatic and ordinary, ho-hum is the way in which we see. I don’t think we have enough practice looking with intention. We need to be intentional, to be the Katie Ledecky of seeing with the eyes of Jesus. We are called to put in 10,000 hours of practice so we can move from apprentice to master; from ho-hum to the dramatic.

When you’ve come into church have you noticed all the donations being given to the Afghan refugees? Maybe it is easily missed as it is not in the entry line-of-sight. Perhaps given the wonderful generosity of this parish, we are so used to seeing donations piled up in that spot that it is ordinary. But I would suggest it is dramatic. The love for others on display right there is the ordinary spot.

Perhaps we need to practice remembering to always look, see the donation, think “that’s dramatic”, give thanks to God for the ones who brought it, and equally important, to recall a moment when you were generous of yourself, your time, and your wealth. When you practice being attentive and seeing, you more easily recognize the opportunities, you find yourself more aware of gratitude… it all adds up.

As we see and think, our thoughts become actions. Over time, our actions become habit. Our habits shape our character. Our character forms the person we are becoming – who we are before God and nothing more.

And we slowly learn to leave apprenticeship behind and master the first and greatest of the commandments. It becomes our character to be all in for God and neighbor.

10,000 hours of ordinary. An eternal life beyond dramatic.


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