Readings for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today, Jesus gives His followers instructions about vigilance in their obedience to Him. The message: expect the unexpected.
Gospel (Read Lk 12:32-48)
Our reading today follows Jesus’ earlier exhortation to His disciples about anxiety: “Don’t be anxious about your life, what you shall eat … or what you shall put on … Instead, seek [God’s] kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well” (read Lk 12:22-31). Warning them again against fear in our verses, He says: “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.” When we desire the right thing first (God’s kingdom), we can be confident He will give it to us with pleasure. As for the rest (earthly needs), we get those, too.
So, how do we seek God’s kingdom? Jesus says it begins with letting go of what we can see (“sell your belongings”) and practicing charity, which will give us treasure we can’t now see in heaven. We will need a detachment from the visible world so that we can attach to the invisible world to come. It takes enormous effort to live for a world we cannot see! Jesus gives us some help with a parable.
“Gird your loins and light your lamp and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.” Jesus is foreshadowing a concrete historical event that will finally bring the unseen world into the seen—His Second Coming. If we know and believe that one day Jesus will be returning to this earth He left so long ago, we at least have focus for our detachment/attachment. If we expect Jesus to appear, as the master in the parable intends to, then we have great incentive to be vigilant for His arrival, as the servants in the parable are expected to be. This is not easy. That must be why Jesus begins the parable with “Gird your loins,” a phrase used to describe preparation for doing something very difficult. He also says, “light your lamp,” surely a reference to our need to keep the fire of our love for Him and others burning brightly until we see Him. The real challenge, of course, is that we have no idea when this will happen. In fact, “at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” Our only recourse is to always be prepared. This is perhaps the hardest requirement, because we are weak and made of dust; we are easily distracted and very susceptible to laziness and impatience. Jesus again gives us an incentive: “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival … he [the master] will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them.” What a tremendous reward for the work it takes to live in vigilance this way. This love that Jesus will lavish on us when He returns was foreshadowed at the Last Supper, when He washed the feet of the disciples. When we receive our reward, then we will know how much our Father is “pleased” to give us the kingdom. As hard as it is to live for a kingdom we cannot yet see, we have nothing to fear when we do.
Then, Peter asks an odd question: “Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?” We might wonder what prompted it. Did Peter think the disciples didn’t really need a warning like this, because they weren’t in danger of losing their vigilance? Did he think they would have insider information about Jesus’ return, enabling them to be better prepared for it? Jesus doesn’t answer the question right away. Instead, He tells another parable. This one is specifically about stewards “whom the master will put in charge of his servants to distribute the food allowance at the proper time.” Surely Jesus is speaking here to Peter and the other apostles, the ones charged with the great responsibility of administering the Eucharist and caring for His Church while He is away. What danger do they face? It is the dark temptation, caused by the master’s delay in coming, to act as if he will never come. When that happens, abuse of authority and personal self-indulgence can run rampant. The stewards need to know that the “master will come on an unexpected day … and will punish the servant severely and assign him a place with the unfaithful.” This is a harsh warning. Just like “everyone,” the apostles (and their successors) will have to live with a constant expectation of Jesus’ return, without knowing when. All of us will need to be vigilant and faithfully obedient, no matter how long it takes.
If Peter thought the apostles were on an inside track, Jesus jolts him out of that: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” Here, Jesus finally answers Peter’s question. The first parable was for “everyone,” because all of us have been given work to do in our lives as servants of Christ, for which we will be held accountable. Our service is our appropriate response to the “much” we have received in the gift our redemption. The second parable was for the apostles, because they have been given the additional “more” in their charism of authority over the Church. To emphasize the gravity of the apostles’ increased responsibility, Jesus says that servants who act “in a way deserving of a severe beating shall be beaten only lightly” if they act in ignorance of their master’s will. The apostles won’t be able to plead that case.
All of us, however, must live by faith—a willingness to obey God, even though we can’t see Him, and to wait for Jesus’ return with confidence, which could come at any time. We must expect the unexpected.
Possible response: Lord Jesus, I need lots of help to live with the expectant vigilance You urged upon Your followers. Please strengthen me where I am weak.
First Reading (Read Wis 18:6-9)
Here is a reflection from one of the books of wisdom literature in the Old Testament. It looks back on the time of the first Passover, when God delivered His people from Egypt. The author says their “fathers” in faith at that time put their trust in the oaths God had sworn to the patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob—to make the Jews His own chosen people and give them a true homeland. Why did they have to trust these oaths, sworn hundreds of years earlier? It was because all they could see was their bondage and the repeated refusal of the Pharaoh to let them go. On the strength of God’s Word alone, not on what they could see, they had “courage.” They did exactly as Moses instructed them. They slaughtered lambs and put the blood on the doorposts of their homes. Did this look to them like a promising way to finally be free from the bondage of slavery? Probably not; nevertheless, “in secret the holy children of the good were offering sacrifice and putting into effect with one accord the divine institution.” In other words, the people silently, at night, hidden away from the eyes of the Pharaoh, obeyed God. They had to believe God would keep His Word, and He did: “For when You punished our adversaries, in this You glorified us whom You had summoned.”
This is a beautiful foreshadowing of what happens in every Mass. In the quiet worship of our churches, we continually make present the one sacrifice that ended the bondage to sin for all people, in all times and places. Even though we cannot see how this works, we believe it and obey it. Meanwhile, who can possibly imagine what God is accomplishing in the world, invisible as it is now, through our faithful obedience? We can only wait with expectation to find out.
Possible response: Heavenly Father, what a privilege it is to have the gift of faith, with eyes that can “see” how mysteriously and invisibly You work in this world—and so often through our prayers and obedience. Thank You!
Psalm (Read Ps 33:1, 12, 18-19)
Jesus tells us in the Gospel that our “Father is pleased to give [us] the kingdom.” The psalmist voices a similar assurance: “See, the eyes of the Lord are upon those who fear Him, upon those who hope for His kindness.” He is always looking to bless us, no matter how things appear to our eyes. Often, we will need patience and perseverance to experience this truth: “Our soul waits for the Lord, Who is our help and our shield.” No matter how long we must wait, when we have put our hope in the Lord, we will confidently be able to say: “Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be His own.”
Possible response: The psalm is, itself, a response to our other readings. Read it again prayerfully to make it your own.
Second Reading (Read Heb 11:1-2, 8-19)
The epistle gives us perhaps the clearest, most direct definition of faith anywhere in Scripture: “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” This theme runs through all our other readings. The author of Hebrews now gives us a list of Old Testament people who lived solely on the strength of God’s Word, not on what they could see or know. Interestingly, they are described as having not received “what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar.” Certainly they did receive concrete signs of God’s presence with them (i.e., Abraham and Sarah saw the birth of Isaac), but all those who “died in faith … acknowledged themselves to be strangers and aliens on earth [who] desire a better homeland, a heavenly one.” These Old Testament saints longed for the fullness of the promises God made to them to be their God and make them His people. So do we. For now, we must wait and live by faith, trusting that nothing is impossible with God, Who is “able to raise even from the dead.”
From the Garden of Eden, God has always wanted His creatures to live with confidence that the unseen He has promised is greater than the seen that now exists. Adam and Eve chose the fruit they could see; Jesus chose the glory of God that was veiled and hidden to Him on the Cross (“why hast Thou abandoned Me?”). If our readings today don’t wake us up to be more vigilant in our obedience because we believe there is more to life than what meets the eye, we are truly asleep.
Possible response: Heavenly Father, don’t let me fall into the sleep of living only for what I can see.