Daily Reflection
August 28th, 2003
Ken Reed-Bouley
Center for Service and Justice
Click here for a photo of and information on this writer.
Memorial of St. Augustine, bishop and doctor of the Church
First Thessalonians 3:7-13
Psalm 90:3-4, 12-13, 14, 17
Matthew 24:42-51

Considering recent blackouts in large portions of the U.S. and increased awareness of terrorism threats around the world, today’s Gospel could lead us to obsess about the apocalypse: you “must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” And if you are not prepared, you will be punished severely in “a place with the hypocrites, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”

Rather than being frightened about the end times--which the author clearly considered imminent--I believe it is more important to consider the corresponding focus of this passage: How do we best live our daily lives as Christians?  How do we treat the people around us?  How can we be “faithful and prudent servants” even when “the master” is not home?  How do we live authentic Christian lives, even when no one is watching?

The Gospel begins to answer these questions by suggesting we need to pay attention both to what we do and what we do not do.  We need to steward well that which has been placed in our care.  We need to distribute “food at the proper time.”  In other words, whether someone with power is watching us or not, we need to be conscientious people who care for one another and for the “household” (which also means “economy”) that binds us.  At the same time, we need to avoid certain behaviors such as hurting one another (“to beat his fellow servants”) or neglecting our responsibility to be prudent stewards by “eating and drinking with drunkards.”

I do not envision God as the Great Scorekeeper in the Sky, watching our every move, waiting for us to mess up in order to punish us. Our God is with us always, offering us love and forgiveness in our joy and pain, in our celebration and grief, in our triumph and sin.

Still, it seems to me that “how we live our lives when no one is watching” can be helpful for us as Christians to consider.  A recent news story considered “ethics in the marketplace” by interviewing people at a supermarket about seemingly insignificant actions such as “tasting” (stealing) grapes before paying for the weighed bunch or knowingly keeping extra change.  The people they interviewed believed such tiny indiscretions were no big deal.  A philosophy professor and self-described “public ethicist” disagreed. He (and I believe Aristotle and Aquinas would agree) suggested that the small, simple, everyday decisions in our lives are how we form good or bad habits that form our enduring characters for virtue or vice.  We are more likely to make ethical, big decisions if we are in the habit of making lots of ethical, small decisions.  If we rationalize about why the seemingly small indiscretions are acceptable, we are more likely to be in good practice to rationalize the big sins.  Did the CEOs of Enron and WorldCom set out to intentionally steal billions of dollars and decimate thousands of people’s retirement funds?  Or did smaller sins that were considered “no big deal” form character in such a way that one thing lead to another and to another and it all got out of hand?

In his Confessions, St. Augustine (whose feast day is celebrated today) is haunted by the childhood memory of stealing pears from a neighbor’s tree simply because he wanted to steal.  Whether it is grapes, pears, or billions of dollars, we need to live our lives as “faithful and prudent servants” whether anyone is watching us or not.  Jesus asks us to always be prepared, to always care for one another.  Forming good habits now through our everyday decisions can only help us when larger decisions come our way.
"If you are interested, you can listen to the story about "Supermarket Ethics" on-line at http://discover.npr.org/features/feature.jhtml?wfId=1385585."

Although I wrote this reflection before I realized the significance of the date, I want to suggest we all ponder the significance of the 40th Anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech.  You may want to see pictures of that historic day 40 years ago (http://usinfo.state.gov/usa/civilrights/anniversary/mow01.htm) or visit the King Center's website (http://www.thekingcenter.org/tkc/index.asp) to commemorate this important day. Let us all continue to pray and work for an end to racism and injustice and for a realization of "the beloved community."

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