Preparing for Sunday anticipating this day.Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Psalms 33:1, 12, 18-19, 20-22
Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19 or 11:1-2, 8-12
Luke 12:32-48 or 12:35-40
Deep in the human heart there is a basic fear of being rejected and not included. Socially we want to be invited, accompanied, and enjoyed. We desire to be consulted and sought out. Exclusion is the beginning of hell for us.
Today’s readings have somewhat of an us-and-them tone. The Book of Wisdom, from which we hear in today’s First Reading, is a recalling of God’s relationship with the people of Israel. Today we hear how God’s people recalled how their ancestors trusted in God’s promises. “Your people awaited the salvation of the just and the destruction of their foes.” This destruction of the adversaries is also seen as glorification of those who had done all good things well. They belonged to God and their enemies did not.
The Gospel for today continues Jesus’ telling His disciples about the kingdom of God. He first affirms His followers that they are of the kingdom as God’s little flock. As such, they need no personal property by which to establish their value. Spiritual treasure will last for eternity and this is where those who are included in the flock, put their hearts.
The members of the flock are compared to servants who live with great expectancy. They are attentive and watchful to welcome their master back into his house. Upon arrival and finding his servants ready, he will sit them down and serve them. They will experience being included, but those who are not attentive, but care only for themselves will be punished and excluded with the unfaithful.
Those who were aware, but chose to be inattentive, they will be beaten “severely.” Those who did not know their master’s will, receive a less severe beating. Ouch! That is very hard for us to hear. We are tempted to begin fearing God, because we are not sure whether or not we are doing the right thing and are we waiting for His coming in accordance with His instructions. How do we know if we are included? Are we to live in terrified ambiguity until the last second, and that is being attentive, alert and faithful?
Should I now write that Jesus was only kidding or exaggerating to frighten us? But we are so sophisticated that we can bypass what He is saying. Or should I propose He really meant every word exactly and you better watch out? You would probably stop reading and tend to disregard anything Jesus taught that threatened your own little flock and kingdom.
Again, in today’s Gospel, as we have heard in the past few weeks, Jesus is talking about Himself as much as to His disciples. He is still on the road to Jerusalem and has put aside the goods of this world for the ultimate good of this world. He is attentive to the Will of His Father and is watchful for how that Will plays out on His journey. He is inviting His followers not to be uncentered by the allurements of this world nor the inclinations of their selfish humanity, which are so attractive.
He reminds them to remember who He says they are and not stray away from accomplishing the work of bringing about the total goodness of this entire larger flock. The really hard saying after the part about being beaten is the last verse about how much will be expected from those who have received much. This can seem a bit confusing, because there has been so much emphasis on not having and giving everything away. What exactly is this “much” about which “more” will be demanded?
I remember being chosen last for a baseball game. At least I was included, but so were ten kids before me. I was told I was “second-string” which meant that not much was expected of my ball-playing abilities. They didn’t think much of me and so I didn’t either, and I played that way. I would deliberately look the other way when the ball was pitched and if it were then hit my way, I wouldn’t be responsible for catching it. Expectations can be oppressive.
Jesus is not saying that if we have been given many gifts and talents then the burden of producing is to lay heavy on our shoulders and hearts. Rather He is telling us who we are by His returning to this created world which is His house. We are His flock and are servants within that house. If we have received faith in Him and therefore in ourselves, then we are chosen to play first-string and do those things which are appropriate to our identity. We will act according to the image He has of us and hence we have of ourselves.
“Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be His own.”
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