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Reflections for the XIX Sunday

Fr. Antony Kadavil reflects and comments on the readings at Mass for the nineteenth Sunday in ordinary time. He says that fidelity in doing God’s will is the best preparation for our death.

Wisdom 18:6-9; Heb 11:1-2, 8-19; Lk 12: 32-48

Introduction: The central theme of today’s readings is the necessity for trusting faith in God’s promises and vigilant preparedness among Christ's followers to meet their God as their judge and rewarder at the time of their death. Fidelity in doing God’s will is the best preparation for our death.

Homily starter anecdote: Be watchful servants: Steven Anthony "Steve" Ballmer (born March 24, 1956) has been the chief executive officer of Microsoft Corporation since January 2000.  He was one of the richest people in the world with a personal wealth estimated at USD 27.7 billion in 2016 and the 35th richest persons in the world.  He was Bill Gates' hand-picked successor. In 2004, he was seen crawling on the floor of the General Motors' executive conference room, trying to fix a connection that would enable him to make a pitch to GM engineers. The image of the Microsoft CEO on his hands and knees to please some customers made such an impression on the author Steve Hamm that he wrote a whole article based on this one incident. [Steve Hamm, "Why High Tech Has to Stay Humble," Business Week (19 January 2004), pp 76-77.] Corporate executives will get on their hands and knees to show customers how much they care. In today’s Gospel Jesus warns his followers to be ever prepared by doing the will of God always in their lives, as the time of their death is uncertain.  (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).

Scripture lessons summarized: The first reading cites the faith-filled preparedness of the ancient Hebrew slaves in Egypt before their mass exodus to the Promised Land.  Their trusting faith in their God’s promises gave them hope.  We are told how their faith and hope resulted in their liberation. With expectant hope, the Hebrews sacrificed the first Passover lamb and ate the first ritual meal, as prescribed by their God through Moses.  They awaited their imminent release and were prepared for it. Today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 33), invites us to express our own confidence in God and to declare our trust in His Providence. In the Second Reading, taken from the last chapter of the letter to the Hebrews, the author defines Faith as “the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”   He tries to bolster the Faith of the Jewish Christians (the Hebrews), by appealing to the example of their ancestors, starting with Abraham, and reviewing the things they had accomplished by Faith.  In the Gospel, Jesus challenges his disciples to trust the Father’s promise to give them eternal happiness in His kingdom. But they are to be prepared at all times, because the Son of Man will come at an unexpected hour either at the moment of their death or at the end of the world whichever is earlier. Using the master-thief parable Jesus warns us to be on our guard so that the thief (the devil), may not steal our treasure of Divine grace or relationship with God by his       temptations. Using the master-servant parable, Jesus reminds us always to do the will of God by obeying Jesus’ commandment of love, offering humble and sacrificial service to others.  

First reading, Wisdom 18, 6-9 explained: The book of Wisdom was written about a century before the coming of Jesus, by a faithful, learned Jew living in cosmopolitan Alexandria in Egypt. One of his purposes was to bolster the Faith of fellow Jews living in a world indifferent, and sometimes hostile, to their beliefs. A favorite theme of the writer is how the providence of God has protected the Chosen People throughout their history, especially during the time of their enslavement in Egypt and during their Exodus to freedom and the Promised Land under Moses. The author goes over these events in great detail. Our verses today interpret Exodus chapters 11 and 12 where, while the angel of the Lord was striking down the first-born of Pharaoh and other Egyptians, the vigilant Hebrew slaves were both obediently offering grateful sacrifice to the Lord and eating the meat of the lamb to fortify themselves for their coming escape. That night was the first Passover.  Like those Jewish slaves in Egypt, we, too, have been called to cling to the Hope of a future that may seem too good to be true, and we, too, are expected to be steadfast in our Faith, even when we see no signs of the fulfillment of God’s promises.

 Second Reading, Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19 explained: This passage is taken from the end of the Letter to the Hebrews. It contains the only explicit definition of religious Faith in the Bible: “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” Like our first reading, the Letter to the Hebrews was trying to bolster the Faith of the Jewish Christians (Hebrews), by appealing to the example of their ancestors who had believed in promises yet to be fulfilled. The chief example of strong Faith is found in their patriarch Abraham, a wealthy but childless pagan in Ur of the Chaldees (modern Iraq).  Abraham heard the voice of God summoning him to a different land, where God promised to grant him many descendants. By Faith Abraham left his homeland, accepted God’s promise that his descendants would form a great nation and was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac at God’s command. Despite obstacles and setbacks, Abraham stayed obedient, "for he thought that the One Who had made the promise was trustworthy." The first century Jewish Christians were ostracized from the religious institutions (sacrifices, priesthood, rituals), of mainline Judaism. To bolster their Faith, the author provided a complex treatise showing that, in their new life in Christ, they were more than compensated for what they had lost. They were given the assurance that Christ’s promises for his believers exceeded the promises given to their Jewish ancestors.

Gospel exegesis: Be ready for your death and Jesus’ Second Coming: Today’s reading from Luke 12 is one of three eschatological discourses in the Gospel. All three of the Synoptic Gospels record Jesus’ concern for warning his disciples to keep alert, to keep watch over themselves with careful attention. The passage is a collection of short parables, in which the chief characters are a master (representing the risen Jesus), and his servants (Jesus’ followers). According to the Fathers of the Church, Jesus' words in this passage have two senses. In the narrower sense, the words refer to the Second Coming of Jesus, but in the broader sense they  refer to the time of  our own  death,  when God will call us  to meet Him and to give Him an account of our  life on earth. Since the precise time of each is unknown to us, the proper attitude for Jesus’ followers is constant watchfulness.

Relationship by grace:  In the first part of today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us what our real treasure should be and how we may keep it safe. The treasure God offers is of far greater value and is more secure than any earthly treasure.  Nevertheless, it is possible for us to lose this treasure if we do not guard it carefully.   The treasure is the relationship with God, which the Lord offers us in His promise of eternal life. But this treasure can be stolen by the devil or lost by a lack of vigilance in the midst of our temptations.  Jesus uses two comparisons to explain the nature of the vigilance required of us. We must be ready for action like an oriental servant and trimmed for service like an oil lamp. The long flowing robes worn by people of the day were a hindrance to work.  When a man prepared himself to work, he gathered up his robes under his girdle (belt) in order to leave himself free for activity. The reference to fastened belts and lamps burning ready (v. 35) also recalled the preparedness for action, which was legislated for Israel in the Passover ritual (Exodus 12:1). Just as the Israelites were to be ready to pass from slavery to freedom, so were the disciples to live in a state of alertness in order to recognize and accept the Passover which Jesus offered – from sin and death to forgiveness and life. The eastern lamp was like a cotton wick floating in a vessel of oil. The wick had to be kept trimmed at all times and the lamp replenished with oil. Otherwise the light would go out. What Jesus teaches us through these comparisons is that our relationship with God the Father must be constantly replenished by our prayers, our Sacramental life, our reading of Holy Scripture and our acts of charity.  Since the Lord is committed to us in an unbreakable covenant of love and fidelity, we must respond with equal commitment, no matter how difficult it may be. In His love for us, God always gives us the grace and strength to remain faithful, and He will reward our faithfulness.

Steadfast Faith and eternal vigilance: In the second part of today’s Gospel, Jesus exhorts his followers to be steadfast in their Faith and ever vigilant. He explains his point using three mini-parables.  The servants of a master were entrusted with the management of the household. In Jesus' day, although stewards were slaves, they had almost unlimited power.   A trusted steward ran his master's house and administered his estate. When his master was not at home, the steward was ever vigilant. He prepared himself for his master’s return at any time of the day or night by always doing his duties faithfully. Jesus illustrates the same point using another mini parable of the wise servants waiting for the return of their master after a wedding feast.

Jesus teaches us the need for constant vigilance using yet another mini parable of the thief and the treasure. We should not lose our treasure of Divine grace like the man who awoke one day to discover that a thief had stolen his wealth during the night.  These parables are addressed to all believers to encourage "wakefulness" and preparedness. We must be vigilant like the servant in the parable waiting for his master's unexpected return or like the wise homeowner who was well prepared for the unexpected break-in of a thief.   Since the time of our death is quite uncertain, we, too, must be ever ready to meet our Lord at any moment. He should find us carrying out our task of love, mercy and service, rather than leaving things undone or half-done. He should also find us at peace with God, ourselves and with our fellowmen (Eph 4:26)

Irreparable mistakes: Jesus then presents the parable of the unwise steward as a warning to us. The unwise steward made two mistakes.   (i) He said, “I will do what I like while my master is away." Like him, we often forget that our Lord is always with us, and that we will be accountable to him on the day of reckoning. Misuse of an office for one’s own advantage or the abuse of others will bring about severe punishment, for the returning Lord will place that servant “with the unfaithful.”  (ii) He said, “I have plenty of time to put things right before the master comes."  Nothing is as fatal to the accomplishment of a task as procrastination.  Jesus also warns us that knowledge and privilege bring responsibility with them. Today, looking back on two thousand years of Christian history, we find it difficult to expect Christ’s second coming during our lifetime.  But we are sure to meet him at our death. Since the date and time of our death are unknown to us,  we should always be ready to give him an account of our lives.

Life messages: 1) We need to be vigilant and ready to face the Lord. One of the traditional means for remaining alert is prayer. The most important element in prayer is listening to God – an attitude of attention to the "tiny whispering sound" of the Lord (1 Kings 19:11-12).   Such attentiveness demands that we set aside a quiet time every day during which we can tune our ears to the Divine sounds of love, harmony and peace. Let us recall the words of the Book of Revelation: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him and he with me" (3:20).

2) We need to wait for the Lord. "Waiting for Christ to return" means working for the coming of the Kingdom of God.  This means doing God’s will by rendering humble service to others, by combating poverty, by ending the hatred that divides us, by establishing peace among individuals and nations, by curbing the pride that causes us to become confrontational, and by building social structures that respect the dignity of individual humans. We must wait for the Lord in our daily lives by learning to see Jesus in the least of our brothers and sisters.  In other words, we must be prepared to serve Jesus in whatever form he takes. What we frequently discover in "serving" other people is that God comes to us through them. (Fr. Antony Kadavil).

08 August 2019, 18:11