|Memorial of St. Augustine,
bishop and doctor of the Church
Psalm 90:3-4, 12-13, 14, 17
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."