Tuesday, August 2, 2016

19th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Faithful servants.  This is what we are called to be as Christians, but do we fully understand what this means?  Our readings for this 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time explores both what it means to be faithful, and to be a servant:

Wisdom 18:6-9
Psalm 33, 1, 12, 18-19, 20-22
Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19 or 11:1-2, 8-12
Luke 12:32-48 or 12:35-40

Our first reading is a short passage from the book of Wisdom.  As always when we read from the book of Wisdom, it’s helpful to remember that for Jesus and the Apostles, this was a contemporary work, having been written only some 50 years before Christ.  It was also popular because it comes from a people who were being persecuted… the Jews of Alexandria in the final throws of the Seleucid Empire, expressing feelings that the Jews of Jerusalem likely felt under the Romans.  In our short passage this week, we are reminded of the Exodus story… how those who trusted in the Lord celebrated the Passover and were delivered to freedom.  Not only had these people dedicated themselves to God, but God had dedicated himself to them.  A covenant was being born, and our Psalm rejoices by singing “blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.”

Our Gospel also reminds us of this Passover covenant.  Like Moses promising that God would deliver them, here Jesus reminds his small band of followers that God is pleased to give them the kingdom.  But as he tells them this, he also reminds them that they must be vigilant servants.  They have been left to care for their master’s property, but they should be prepared at any time for their master’s return.  In other words, they should never grow complacent.  They should always be prepared.  While the shorter version of this gospel gives us plenty to consider, the longer version has Peter questioning Jesus, wanting to know if this parable is meant for everyone or just for them (he and the rest of the 12).  Jesus continues the parable reference by teaching them about the “prudent steward” whom the master has put in charge of his servants.  This part of the parable is clearly pointed at the Apostles, as Jesus reminds them that they will be held responsible for how they care for the master’s servants.  In other words, given their position of authority, they have that much more to lose if they are unfaithful in their task.

Our second reading begins a four week study of the Letter to the Hebrews.  Perhaps one of the more important observations of this letter is that though it is in the Pauline style, it is not attributed to Paul himself.  Still, the lessons being express are just as important.  Here we are reminded that “faith is the realization of what is hoped for .”  In other words, by putting our trust in God, we can trust that what God promises will be fulfilled.  To reinforce his point, the author reminds us of the story of Abraham, who time after time, against all odds, is shown that his faith in the Lord is justified… that the Lord has delivered what was promised.

Final thoughts:

What does it mean to be a faithful servant?  When Jesus taught, he had an amazing way of connecting the lessons of his teachings to everyday life.  Unfortunately, most of us today don't have any experience living as a servant, or of having servants.  The days of Downtown Abbey are well past us, and while our day-to-day jobs might feel like a form of service, for the most part it’s not the same as having to devote one’s entire self to the lord of the manner and the care of his property.

It would be easy for us to think that being a faithful servant to Christ was the realm of the clergy and committed religious brothers and sisters, but we would be wrong.  Being a Christian is not a part time job on Sundays and special occasions… it is a full time commitment for all of us, every day.  Being a faithful servant can take many forms.  So long as we commit to loving God and loving our neighbor, we can be assured our hope for salvation will be fulfilled.

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