NINETEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2019)
Psalms 33:1, 12, 18-22
Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19
There is good news and bad news in today’s gospel from Luke. First the good news: Jesus refers to his disciples [and us] as His “little flock,” to whom His Father “is pleased to give you the Kingdom.” The image of a flock should rightly conjure up all the familiar and kindly imagery of the Good Shepherd, and God’s overwhelming generosity is proclaimed in His desire to give us the Kingdom, something He is “pleased” to do. The bad news: we are going to have to wait for it!
Many at the time Luke’s gospel was written were losing hope that the kingdom was going to happen at any time. You will recall in the earliest of the New Testament writings [Thessalonians] that many were encouraged to keep on working since they were assuming the kingdom was about to occur, because why toil and tire yourself out if the kingdom was happening tomorrow. Luke’s audience, however, needed encouragement to not lose hope, to keep living the way Jesus wanted them to live, without any undue dependence on earthly things. The “money bags” that truly mattered were not threatened by thieves or moths, because the treasure that mattered was centered in the heart. A delay in the coming of the kingdom, would require patience, vigilance, and a sincere desire to be “ready.”
Waiting was not unfamiliar to Jesus’ audience, as our readings for Sunday demonstrate. The Book of Wisdom alludes to the waiting of God’s people for the salvation of the just, and countless numbers of Old Testament luminaries, waited for “forty days” or “forty years” for the manifestations that would convince them that they were, indeed, God’s people. The Psalmist expresses those feelings when he sings “our soul waits for the Lord.” Even our New Testament reading from the Letter to the Hebrews speaks of the waiting of Abraham, “who did not receive what had been promised,” but waited in faith nonetheless. Abraham looked forward to the city whose architect and maker is God, and as Christians we believe that he did not enter that city until the Word made flesh blew open the doors of heaven, making heaven accessible to all by His death on the cross.
Jesus encourages His disciples to “gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding.” We are blessed if we are vigilant; we are blessed if we are patient. The absence of the master is not an opportunity like some adolescent whose parents are away to raise Cain, to do what they would never do were the parents at home. Jesus goes so far as to compare Himself, the Son of Man, with a “thief” who gives no advance warning of his breaking into a house. We must be “prepared,” “for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
Like the disciples of Jesus’ day, we often need the kind of encouragement Jesus gives in our gospel passage from Luke. Often we tire of doing good, and the reward promised by Jesus seems so far off in the future, or even non-existent, that we have a tendency to give in to our worst instincts, to forget or ignore the difference between what is right and wrong, to forget what it is that Jesus Himself taught us. God is not out to catch us off guard, and if any fear is present as a motivation of doing what is right, it should be fear of disappointing the God who treats us like a “little flock,” who wants what is best for us, and who put His life on the line in order that He might instruct us on how to find our way back to the Father. The selling of our “belongings” and the giving of “alms,” is necessary, not because it accelerates the coming of the kingdom, but because it reminds us of what He taught us and makes us more like Him whose name we bear. The “money bags” of our hearts are not filled with anything that thieves can take from us, but they are filled with simple acts of kindness and compassion, moments of generosity that resemble the overwhelming generosity of God, and times that are spent with the needy and the poor and the disenfranchised. If we have made the effort to build up our spiritual treasure, then there should never be any fear that God will “come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour,” for God will be “pleased” that the treasure that matters most to us is the treasure of our hearts, and He will be pleased to open to us the Gates of Heaven which He is so desirous of sharing with us.