19th Ordinary Sunday (Year C)
First Reading: Wisdom 18:6-9 Second Reading: Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19 Gospel Reading: Luke 12:32-48
“BLESSED IS THAT SERVANT WHOM HIS MASTER ON ARRIVAL FINDS HIM DOING SO!”
One night a house caught fire and a young little boy was forced to flee to the roof. The father stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to his son, "Jump! I'll catch you." He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see, however, was flame, smoke, and blackness. As can be imagined, he was afraid to leave the roof. His father kept yelling: "Jump! I will catch you." But the boy protested, "Daddy, I can't see you." The father replied, "But I can see you and that's all that matters." Hearing this, the boy jumped. He jumped, because he trusted his father.
The Christian faith enables us to face life or meet death, not because we can see, but with the certainty that we are seen; not that we know all the answers, but that we are known. Faith is not merely us holding on to God - it is God holding on to us. And He will never let us go!
Today is the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time; and all the three Scripture Readings of today invite us to dwell upon the theme of our need for a lively faith and hope in the things to come. Faith is the confident assurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about things we do not see; and also the test of our faith is its endurance for the long haul, in good times and in bad times.
FAITH OF ABRAHAM:
In the Second Reading of today, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews speaks about two faith-filled people, Abraham and Sarah. He recalls how our early faith ancestors placed their trust in God. Abraham and Sarah left their comfortable home and set out for an unknown land because God called them. When God promised them that their 'descendents would be as numerous as the stars of the sky and the sands of the sea,' they were old enough to be great-grandparents and Sarah too was sterile. Even though for so long they saw no fulfillment of the promise, they believed. They had the virtue of faith, a lasting confidence that God's word would be fulfilled someday.
And when God finally granted them a son, He asked Abraham to sacrifice him and still continue to believe, to trust, and to hope that the promise would still somehow be accomplished. Abraham, faithfully listening to the word of God, 'hoped against hope' that his son would be restored to him, even as he was willing to sacrifice him. It is shocking, even disgusting, to think that somebody was willing to sacrifice his own son to God. Essentially, Abraham's readiness to sacrifice his son is an act of trust, of faith, in which he was proved right. We consider Abraham our father in faith, and he is a model for our own times – he took great risks; he had no agenda other than his faithful obedience to the God in whom he trusted completely. We might ask whether we are models of faith in light of this passage.
FAITH OF THE ISRAELITES:
The most memorable event in the early history of the Israelite people was their exodus from Egypt. Because the Israelite people believed, God saved them. God led them out of slavery and saved them from their enemies.
Today's First Reading from the Book of Wisdom recalls God's special care and protection of the Israelite people. The author sees God's people as 'the holy children of the good' who have cooperated with God's plan for salvation. Today's passage presents an account of the tenth plague during the night of the Passover, when the angel of death struck down the first born of the Egyptians and spared the Israelite people who had sprinkled the blood of the lamb on their door posts. God was liberating them from slavery and they put their trust in the power of their God to save them.
God is always faithful to his promise. But He acts with divine wisdom and divine love, which is far above our ability to understand or see. We are challenged to put our trust in the promises of the Lord and never waver, never doubt his goodness, his power, and his love.
FAITH OF A DISCIPLE:
Today's Gospel from St. Luke begins by taking up the theme of last week, viz. setting store on our treasure in heaven rather than being bound to our material treasures here on earth. Here Jesus speaks of material possessions as capturing the heart, not allowing one to be free to follow him. So he challenges his disciples to reveal what it is they really value, following him or being caught up in material wealth. But the actual theme of today's Gospel is 'remaining faithful as we wait for the return of the Lord.' Jesus uses two parables to make the point:
First there is “the Parable of the Watchful Servants,” where Jesus encourages his disciples to be vigilant and ready for action as they wait for the coming of the Master. That he will come is certain, but when he will come no one knows. The Lord comes unexpectedly into our lives everyday through events and people we meet. But the ultimate, expected coming of the Lord in our lives is the moment of death. We should be watchful to recognize the Lord and be prepared to meet him in the little unexpected opportunities of everyday life. This is the best way to prepare for the ultimate encounter with the Lord at the hour of death.
In the second parable, “the Parable of the Faithful or Unfaithful Servant,” Jesus reiterates the lesson of the first parable under the heading of faithfulness. He portrays two different attitudes of disciples in the absence of the Master. The wise disciple remains steadfast at his duty post even in the master's absence. The foolish disciple takes to a complacent lifestyle and takes the law into his own hands. The day of reckoning comes with the master's return. The faithful servant receives a promotion, the unfaithful one is 'cut to pieces' and given a place with the unbelievers.
The Gospel completes this teaching in Jesus´ words to be ready at all times for the end, and to live each day as if it were the last; to live each day before God and to render fully to him what he expects from each one of us.
To summarize, to be a disciple of Jesus is to be fundamentally a man or woman of faith, someone who trusts completely in God throughout all the 'ups and downs' of life, someone who desires to do what God wants him to do even though he can’t precisely figure out what that is. It’s the desire that’s important. Significantly, therefore, when Jesus challenged his disciples, he prefaced his teaching with a counsel against fear. “Do not live in fear,” the Lucan Jesus advised in today’s gospel. Faith, not fear, was to be the guiding force in the lives of Jesus’ disciples. Faith would enable them to set their hearts on that never-failing treasure with the Lord; faith would empower them to live in a constant attitude of preparedness, ready to recognize and welcome Jesus, who promised to return for them at a time and in a manner they would least expect. Faith would keep them aware of and attentive to their responsibilities; faith would prompt them toward the mutual love and support of their brothers and sisters which was to characterize them as Jesus’ own.
As Christians, we have been given a great deal - a lot of it on trust. Our faith is given to us as a treasure for heaven - but we don’t always cherish it as one. We know that our lives - our gifts - our families are all treasures - but, again, we don’t always give them the respect and love they deserve. One day, we will be called to account for how we have looked after what we have been given. We will also be asked how we have helped others.
Another way we Christians can prove that we are a people of faith is to live every day as though we expect Jesus to return. Jesus challenges his followers to be always ready for his return, to live as if the end were near: to build a true treasure, not fleeting wealth, giving freely, being generous and living in the sight of God at all times. The world often lulls us into lethargy and comfort, and we forget that we are people on a journey and this is not our permanent home. We forget that we are living above all for the life to come and that this world, as good and beautiful as it is, is not our final destiny.
Today's gospel urges us to be awake and on the watch like servants awaiting the master's return home from a wedding banquet. Watchfulness means living in such a consistently moral and obedient way that we are always ready to give an account to God of how we have lived. Since no one knows when the final judgment will happen, the wise person will always be prepared for it.
Finally, we are called to be faithful servants. In today's Gospel, we are given the promise that when the master comes he will reward his faithful servants. Actually, being a good and faithful servant requires us to have a relationship with God based on trust that his words are life-giving, that they are true. It means to be open to his life-giving word. This is not an empty phrase. Being open to God is essentially about being a good host, waiting for him to arrive and listening to what he says. This openness and trust is one of the most fundamental elements of the Christian life. We need to realize daily that we are waiting for God. “Blessed is that servant whom his master on arrival finds him doing so.” And this is the Good News of today.