"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

19th SUNDAY -C- August 7, 2022

Wisdom 18: 6-9; Psalm 33;
Hebrews 11: 1-2, 8-19; Luke 12: 32-48

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

For many of us the fear level is high and rising. After these past few years the epidemic is still a constant threat to our health and has killed so many. Now we fear a new variant that the vaccine might not protect us from. Grammar school children have been murdered in their classroom. Kids are not even safe at school! There have been mass shootings at public gatherings and shopping malls. Add to those the economic shifts that have caused many to lose their jobs, or drained their savings. The highest inflation rate in 40 years has pushed many into poverty and had family members stand on lines to get food for dinner. Need I go on? We can add much more to this partial "fear list." I haven’t even begun to list international fear factors like terrorism, the threats posed by Russia, China and North Korea. Plus, the devastating effects of climate change. In July, the temperature in my home state of Texas was frequently over 100 degrees!

How then, can Jesus tell us, "Do not be afraid any longer little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the Kingdom." Some might ask, "What world does he live in?" What’s more, he advises us to, "Sell your belongings and give alms." But it is the security our belongings give that helps alleviate at least some of our fears.

Jesus is reminding us that our earthly possessions cannot protect us from what we fear. Rather, we have God who is "pleased" to give us what is imperishable and can’t be taken from us, life in the community Jesus calls "the Kingdom." And ruling in that new order is our gracious God who cares for us even amid real threats and dangers. This does not mean we will live a carefree life, but God will never leave us on our own. The question for us is: where, or on what, do we place our confidence for the uncertain future? Is it in our possessions, or by living under the loving gaze of God, whom Jesus tells us is "pleased" with us. Haven’t we known people whose faith has sustained and even given some degree of calm as they face loss – even impending death? Their possessions did not provide that calm when their needs were dire.

Jesus is reassuring his disciples who, because they are his followers, will face questions, opposition and even death. Who is strong enough for that? It will not be their determination and courage alone that will see them through, but the one he calls "Father," who is already pleased with them. God does not take a judgmental seat like a chair umpire at a tennis match, who observes and judges the players from above. Instead, the God Jesus reveals to us is concerned about even the hairs of our head. This God is giving us a treasure that will not wear out, or fail us in our need. So, Jesus advises not to put our confidence in human resources, in what we own, or can buy, as important as they are to daily life.

Jesus proposes the parable of the late return of the master of the household. The master expects the servants to be ready for him whenever he comes. But what an unusual master! When he arrives and finds them prepared, he puts on an apron to serve them. Is this a reminder for us to be vigilant and persistent in our service to others? When we are, we can be assured that the Lord is in our very midst, indeed, joining us in our service.

When can we expect the Lord to come to serve us, his disciples? Certainly at this Eucharist where Jesus feeds us his very life in his word and the bread and wine. But, according to the parable, he will also show up at times we do not expect him to enable us to serve him in the poor, among our coworkers and at our family dinner table, where his Spirit provides wisdom and sustains our desire to be his alert and faithful witnesses.

The servants who wait their master’s return from the wedding are consistent in their waiting. They expect his return and are congratulated when he arrives. They did not know when he would come, but that did not diminish their vigilance, or expectation. The unusual feature of the master serving them may be a figure of Jesus’ own death for us. It also directs us to the meal he serves us at our Eucharistic table. It is a meal for the present, but also for the coming days when we servants must return to our work responsibility as Jesus’ vigilant laborers in the world. We want to be diligent in our work in the Kingdom here on earth. Jesus encourages us to sell and give our possessions to the poor. It is his Spirit that empowers us to trust in his being with us as we focus on our work for the Kingdom now and until he returns.

Let’s join the Master’s servants in their surprise. Who among them could have anticipated what they experienced; mere servants being treated with honor and dignity and served at the table by their master? What does that suggest to us servants in the Kingdom? Well, those servants didn’t do anything extraordinary or praiseworthy. They just stayed faithful to their assigned tasks. The surprise came by way of an unexpected gift, the master served them.

Day by day we do what is expected of us: we serve the Lord in ways he has shown us by his life and death. Are we prepared to be surprised when he shows up? Do we sense his presence, for example, when a simple service project we work on evokes unexpected results we would never have anticipated? Or, when we have done our best to raise our kids and have felt inadequate to the task. Yet, they do something, or choose a way of life, that swells us with pride. How did that happen? The parable tells us: the Master surprises ordinary servants just doing the best they can. Surprise is another name for grace.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/080722.cfm