"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

19th SUNDAY -C- August 11, 2019

Wisdom 18: 6-9; Ps 33; Hebrews 11: 1-2, 8-19; Lk 12: 38-40

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

I have chosen the short form for today’s gospel. In it Jesus introduces another beatitude. Remember earlier (6:20-26), in the Sermon on the Mount, when he declared "blessed" those who are poor, hungry, been hated, insulted and ostracized, "because of the Son of Man." He also said those who hear the word of God and do it are "blessed" (11:28). Today Jesus declares "blessed" those who are found vigilant and prepared when the master returns.

The gospel has a surprise in it. We expect servants to be ready to welcome the master when he returns and then get busy serving him. But when this master returns he ties up his tunic with his belt, invites the servants to sit down and then serves them! Surely things don’t work this way in our world; the servants do their work and the master reclines in leisure waiting to be served. We don’t get rewarded for doing nothing and yet that is what happens in today’s gospel to the waiting servants – no heroic acts, no long hours of prayer, just waiting.

The first reading from the Book of Wisdom is part of the speech describing God’s fidelity. It recalls the night of the last plague in Egypt, when Pharaoh finally agreed to let the people go. In an idealized version of the events, the speech suggests that the Israelites were faithful to God and because of their trust God rewarded and rescued them. It almost sounds like God set the people free because they deserved it. But they did not and still God delivered them from their oppressors.

Isn’t that how we think? If we do what we are supposed to then God will reward us. We do the required work and then expect our "payment" from God. As a result, this thinking goes, good things come our way because we have earned them. There are some very large churches here in Texas where thousands of people worship each Sunday. The preachers teach a "prosperity gospel": if we lead good Christian lives and have faith in God, God will reward us with "blessings" – good health, material prosperity and happy families. In contrast, those who lack these benefits must not be leading a good life, because God is not rewarding them.

Back to the gospel. What did the servants do, or what was asked of them? Only that they be ready to welcome the master when he returns. And then, how does the master treat his servants? He waits on them even though they haven’t done anything to merit his special treatment.

The gospel turns our world upside down. God surprises us and does the unexpected. Which is what is happening for us today at our Eucharist. The master has come, as he said he would, to serve and not to be served. He offers himself as food and drink for us as we continue to wait for him. Each time we come to worship and sit down at his table he gives himself to us. It is not because we have done anything to earn this favor. It is not because we are worthy, but because he has loved us with a love that will never end. This love moves him to give his life for us.

The Wisdom reading begins, "That night." It is a reference to the night of the first Passover when God led the Israelite slaves out of Egyptian bondage. As a result, the Jews believed the Messiah would come on the feast of Passover. The reading stirs up memory of the liberation from slavery and so early Christians believed Christ would return on Passover. But he did not. For his followers the Eucharist became the celebration of his presence with them, but also his absence. Like the master in the story, Christ has come, seats us, his waiting community at the table and serves us his body and blood, food to sustain us in our waiting.

Because we believe he is to return, that hope helps us focus on our present reality. We mustn’t get distracted or lackadaisical while we wait. Nor should we look elsewhere with a false sense of security and think, "This is the way things have been, are now and always will be." The Master’s unexpected arrival will burst that false bubble of security.

Today’s readings remind us of Advent when the Scriptures turn our thoughts to Christ’s return. But it is not Advent, it is mid-summer here in our hemisphere. Two weeks ago it was 108° in Paris! The readings remind us during these "lazy, hazy days of summer" not to be deceived and see this time as ordinary and uneventful. The readings remind us that, as with our Jewish ancestors, God sees us in our need and is actively working on our behalf. At this Eucharist our sins are forgiven and we are strengthened, as we wait, to go and be the instruments of the kingdom of God in our world. Our Passover continues with each Eucharistic celebration.

We speak about not having enough time to do the things we need to do. In the morning we make our plans for the day, even make a list of what we hope to get done before we go to bed. But we often don’t finish what we have listed, and don’t have the satisfaction of checking off each item on that list with a satisfying – "Done!" Maybe we are overly optimistic each day. Or, maybe the interactions and side trips we must make as the day progresses pull us away from that list we made earlier. Was the day less than fulfilling? Are we dissatisfied with how little we got done? But the gospel asks us to revisit what we all too easily miss – the master coming to the door. The gospel calls us to be alert to God’s abundant gifts in our daily routines; how Christ has entered our lives and served us, often in what appears to be just interruptions from our intended goals.

In the light of Christ’s unexpected entrance into our ordinary lives I asked a small group of Dominican laypeople, "How do you experience Christ’s surprising entrance into your daily life? They are professional people and here are some of the responses they made.

A student of religion said, "Ours is an incarnational religion, so I experience God every day in the most ordinary ways. I also ask my adult religion class, ‘How has God used you today?’ Often they thank me for alerting them to how God uses them as a surprising entrance into the lives of others."

A businessman said three distinct people told him that as a result of recent conversations with him they returned to the Church. He said, "These people seemed to be waiting and God somehow used me to enter their lives."

A woman said, "When I quiet myself and actually listen to another, God speaks to me through them. How different my life would be if I believed God enters my life and speaks to me through others when I listen."

An office worker confessed, "I am not always vigilant, expecting Christ to visit. Our workplace is stressful with high expectations placed on us. The other day someone came to visit, knocked on the door and asked, "How are you?" I realized that Christ was in that visitor, and was serving me."

The session ended with a final comment by one of the participants, "While we are waiting for him, he is already here."

 

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

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/081119.cfm