Wednesday, October 19, 2011

29th Wednesday in Ordinary Time, Cycle I: Preparing for the Master’s return

I wrote this to return myself back into the groove; I’ll post an extra essay sometime in the next week to fill the gap, as it were.

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Today’s gospel is from Luke 12:39-48:
[Jesus said,] “But know this, that if the householder had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?”
And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him, and put him with the unfaithful. And that servant who knew his master’s will, but did not make ready or act according to his will, shall receive a severe beating. But he who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, shall receive a light beating. Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more.”
 The springboard for this reading is Jesus’ warning to his disciples to be ready for his return, a warning repeated at several points throughout the New Testament: the day of the Lord will come “like a thief in the night” (1 Thess 5:2-3; cf. Mt 24:44, 25:13, Mk 13:33, 2 Pet 3:9-10, Rev 3:3). Most successful surprise attacks are launched in the darkest hours of the morning, when the opponent is mostly asleep and the watchmen are at their least alert.

The Second Coming won’t occur when we’re watching the skies for the Rapture, but rather when, like the Rich Fool (Lk 12:13-21), we’re convinced we have nothing to worry about, and can relax and enjoy ourselves in sybaritic comfort. Or, as the unfaithful steward, when we’ve ceased to wait for the Lord and have abandoned his teachings for evil works.

Saint Peter asks for us if the warning is meant only for the Twelve or for all the Lord’s disciples. On one level, Jesus does intend it for the apostles and their successors. It’s primarily their job to make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19), to preach the gospel urgently in season and out of season (2 Tim 4:2), to witness for the faith in word and deed.

Since they are set over us as teachers, more is expected of them, for “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Mt 18:6; cf. Mk 9:42, Lk 17:2). While the one who sins in ignorance will be chastised least, the one who should have taught him his duties will be punished more. And the one who disobeyed and abused his master’s trust will be accounted with the unfaithful: “I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers” (Mt 7:23).

On another level, though, Jesus’ warning is as much meant for the disciple as for the teacher. For we too are called to be witnesses to Christ:

The disciple of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it: “All however must be prepared to confess Christ before men and to follow him along the way of the Cross, amidst the persecutions which the Church never lacks” (Lumen Gentium 42; cf. Dignitatis Humanae 14). Service of and witness to the faith are necessary for salvation: “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 10:32-33).[1]

Saint Paul, in the reading, puts the matter to us clearly: “Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to any one as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness” (Rom 6:16)? Having already professed faith in Christ, we are already his servants, and can’t refuse to serve him without shame and dishonor; for “no one can serve two masters” (Mt 6:24; cf. Lk 16:13).

In Chapter 17 of his Rule, St. Francis of Assisi wrote, “Let none of the brothers preach contrary to the form and institution of the holy Roman Church, and unless this has been conceded to him by his minister. … Nevertheless, let all the brothers preach by their works.”[*] While this doesn’t relieve us of the obligation to give verbal witness, it reminds us that living the faith takes some precedence over verbal testimony. Therefore St. Paul advises us:

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace (Rom 6:12-14).

To us who have been brought to the foot of the Cross much has been given. Consequently, we have more to lose than those have not heard so much as rumor of salvation. So let us be mindful, and prepare ourselves for our Master’s return … whenever it may be.

[*] This may be the source of the saying attributed to him: “Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.”