What does it mean for us to be in or live or minister in the presence of God? That’s a big question that would take many words to describe. But at least part of the answer is that we are simply present to God in an ongoing, moment -by-moment way. What does it mean to be present to a close friend or your spouse? (Hopefully we can be present to them.) To be present to my wife means that I honor her nearness to me, that she is with me and occupies a place in my attention. (Hopefully I can be present to her.) However, my heart and mind can sometimes be pre-occupied by something or someone else? When I’m preoccupied I cannot be present to the other person. When I’m pre-occupied my heart, my mind, my hands are already occupied and I cannot take up anything more. I have to put something else down in order to take up something new. There is an emptying that must take place. What am I pre-occupied with that prevents me from being present to God and for that matter other people?
I was reflecting on the morning’s reading in the Gospel of Luke 10 about the Samaritan man who ministered mercy to the man who was robbed outside the city. Jesus told this parable to answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Or, maybe, “Who should I be present to?”
Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling on a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. “By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’ “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” Luke 10:30-37, NLT.
Here is an irony: A priest and a temple servant passed by the wounded man unaffected by his pain. These were two men who were to be serving in the presence of God, yet they were not present to the man who lay by the roadside beaten and bloodied. Maybe they were a little pre-occupied by their stations with the priestly garments and positions so that they could not care for this wounded man. Or maybe they were concerned that they might be defiled if they touched his wounds as touching blood was a source of ritual defilement. They were too pre-occupied to be present to what God might be doing with this man. Then came the Samaritan man who had no such pre-occupation and was therefore free to see the wounded man and take care of his needs even expending his own resources to do so (his wine, oil, and very garment to make bandages). Jesus says, “Go and do the same.” (Be present and open to the moment in God.)
In the Torah, we are told to “Love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, all of our souls, and all of our strength.” We cannot do so when we are pre-occupied with other things taking up space in our hearts, heads, and hands. What are we pre-occupied with at this moment? What is taking up our heart, head, and hands? It’s not that these things aren’t important, but we must learn to see them through the lens of God’s presence. Let us put these things down and be present to and pre-occupied with God.