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Awaiting the Master's Return

Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
First Reading: Wis 18:6-9
Response: Ps 33:1, 12, 18-19, 20-22
Second Reading: Heb 11:1-2, 8-19 or 11:1-2, 8-12
Gospel: Lk 12:32-48 or 12:35-40 

Today's Gospel passage is a continuation of Luke's Gospel, which outlines the Lord's idea of discipleship. It comes at the close the 12th Chapter, which begins with the mission of the disciples, and takes us through his description of the Transfiguration, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the story of Martha and Mary, the Lord's teaching on Prayer (the Lord's Prayer) - right up to this week's reading where Jesus tells us to be prepared, for we "do not know the hour when the Son of Man will come."

The men and women who comprised the earliest Christian communities lived in an age of persecution and fear, and with a very vivid sense of expecting the second coming of Jesus at any moment. So being prepared, being ready for His appearance was a very powerful motivation for them to be faithful in living out the Gospel every day and in every circumstance. It made their lives heroic; it made their witnessing in faith very courageous and consistent.

As time passed, and Jesus did not in fact return, the sense of urgency passed. It was easier to become complacent, to grow comfortable with compromise, and to put off real conversion. All of the Gospel messages about being prepared had to be reinterpreted... and, very often, the motivation for authentic Christian living became the inevitability and the unpredictability of death: Christians must live good and holy lives every single day in order to be ready to meet the Lord at the moment of death.

Generally, it is not normal for people to live with the thought of imminent death unless they happen to be terminally ill, or very old, or caught in some life threatening circumstance. So for most of us, being prepared has to take on a different meaning. It has to imply a profound sense of commitment and fidelity to the Gospel and to Christian values. It means that this attitude of mind and heart becomes second nature to us - is always present... and directs and affects all of our choices.

One doesn't need to be a theologian or "professional religious" person in order to be a disciple. Jesus never once formulated a doctrinal or theological proposition. He spent his life and his ministry among people - living with them, touching them, talking with them, embracing and healing them, breathing His Spirit into their hearts. The first disciples became aware - begrudgingly, at first - that the Spirit they had seen in Jesus was present and active in their lives as well. Eventually, they came to believe that this Spirit could be as courageously expressed in their lives as Jesus had allowed it to be in his. And so should we.

We don't always succeed; but we need to be prepared, always. We do have to live each day trying to imitate the life of Jesus as perfectly as we can. His ministry flowed from his belief that living in love was living in God. He believed that His intimate understanding of God would be "good news" to all people - that it would bring freedom to those held captive, bring sight to the blind and set all of us free.

Jesus has indeed set us free. But this is a freedom that is far different from what we might expect. By his life we are set free from images, ideas and practices that bind us into the enslavement of thinking and acting as if we had all of the answers; we are set free from the fear and abandonment of a distant, impersonal God; we are set free from divisions that divide us and set us against one another. This is a freedom that challenges us to break down barriers and to take personal responsibility for the emergence of the God's reign in this world.

Being prepared means being ready for a spot check on our Christianity at any time. We have to think and speak and act consistently in a way that will identify us always as belonging to God's people, living out Jesus' vision. He preached and lived in the Spirit, and his preaching and his living challenge us all to do the same.

Today's readings sound like those we expect to hear at Advent - all this talk of perseverance in trials, faithfulness in waiting, hope in Jesus' return. But being prepared isn't a part-time virtue, a one-season practice. We are always on the watch for the Lord in our daily lives, trying to discern how to respond to him in prayer and service to others.

 We are the people of the promise, the people of God's choice - we are the "evidence of things not seen." At the most unexpected times and in the most surprising ways, the Lord knocks on the door of our lives and asks to be let in.

We have been entrusted with much, and still more is demanded of us. How well are we prepared?

 



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