November 21st, 2007
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Two trains of thought chugged out of my mental station when I began
reflecting on the Scripture that the Church provides for our banquet
of the word today. The first concerns the Church’s constant
reverence for martyrs, those who have died in witness to God’s
Reign and the central mystery of the Resurrection. In the month
of November each year the Church calls us to attend to the fact
that all of us will die and we need to think about death as the
goal that shapes our lives and choices every day. If I believe in
the Resurrection and the ultimate Reign of God (and act accordingly)
then I do not need to fear death or anything short of death. Every
event, every choice, becomes an opportunity to live into the freedom
of belonging entirely to God who loves us utterly and desires our
joy. Nothing conveys this reality more clearly than the death of
a martyr. It is perhaps helpful for us to note that during the Twentieth
Century there were more martyrs in the Church than in any era since
the first three centuries. Perhaps we need that witness of faith
more than other generations have. In any case the story of the seven
Maccabean brothers and their very strong mother certainly reflects
faith in God’s Reign.
But today’s Gospel text casts the first reading into a slightly
different context and my second train of thought went down that
track. Luke presents us with a very challenging parable from Jesus
about the rich noble who goes away to become the King of the larger
territory. He gives his servants sums of his resources (gifts) and
tells them to invest it for a profit. Meanwhile his neighbors have
gone about petitioning that he NOT be made king – they “despise
him” the text says. So Luke’s Jesus presents us with
a very strong leader who has serious enemies and whose servants
are commanded to work to enlarge their gifts (with a whiff of threat?)
while he is “away.” The clue to the text is in the story
setup at the beginning where Luke tells us that they are near Jerusalem
where there is a strong belief in the coming of the Reign of God.
Jesus is then giving us a Kingdom message. Our King (God) is very
strong and has serious enemies (start with Antiochus the Greek who
slaughtered Mrs. Maccabee and her seven sons, and come right down
to the present) but note that the leader isn’t going to have
a lot of patience with enemies. When the time comes for reckoning
he will “slay them.” (So much for “good and gentle
Jesus” images), and he will call to account his servants for
the gifts he has given them. One might say that the model servant
(who made 100% return) is one like the Maccabee boys ready to do
always and only God’s Will – even to death.
So, this is where the two trains come together on one track –
the Reign of God is demanding. It demands everything that we are.
But it is worth everything.
This is a most uncomfortable meditation for those who want to cling
to an image of God that is “soft” or “tolerant”
of great evil. “God will forgive anything” I hear my
young adult students say on a regular basis. . . but here is Jesus
suggesting a difficult paradox in the “character” of
God. If we imagine that God’s gifts to his servants are the
various forms of power to disclose his reign on earth as it is in
heaven, (healing, revealing, reconciling) the message is that if
you don’t use and enlarge the gift you lose it! It’s
a demanding call.
Furthermore the King will do away with his enemies when the Kingdom
comes to fullness. I certainly would rather be a servant than an
enemy on that day – but as I meditate on these texts I have
more than a small jolt out of any comfortable capitalistic pursuits
I might be about. I think my most focused prayer today will be to
ask for the grace to say in truth: “When your glory appears,
my joy will be full!” Ps 17- response.
to the writer of this reflection.
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