Fr. Bryan Howard
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C – 11 August 2019
When I was growing up I used to either walk home from school or ride my bike. I would come in through the back door, into the kitchen, where Maw Maw would usually already be getting dinner ready. We had a sort of tradition where I would try to guess what she was making just from the smell, without actually looking at the pots. To this day I can still imagine the smell of port chops in gravy with baked beans, but then I’d have to wait sometimes for as much as two hours until dinner. Paw Paw would always have to go and “test” the food before dinner time. Waiting is a part of life that we experience every day and that we try to reduce as much as possible. We’ve invented telephones for instant communication, self-checkout lanes at stores, and next day shipping. Our readings today are all about waiting, but active waiting, making themselves ready to receive what they’re waiting for.
We, like them, are always waiting for God. We wait for Him to tell us what He wants us to do, we wait for Him to speak to us and give us grace, and we wait for heaven, but how do we make ourselves ready to receive what He wants to give us?
The Letter to the Hebrews gives us Abraham as an example of faith. God promised to give Abraham the land that He would lead him to, but Abraham had to set out on his journey without knowing where He was going, and even when He got there he didn’t possess the land. He lived in a tent as a nomad, and his descendants wouldn’t take possession of the land until hundreds of years later. God also promised to give Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the shore of the sea. The name Abram actually means “exalted father,” but Abraham didn’t actually have any children at all until he was almost 90 years old, then God changed his name to “Abraham,” which means “father of a multitude.” This is ridiculous, he had one change, that’s not exactly a multitude. Why would God choose a man named Exalted Father as the father of his chosen people and then not give him a son until he was almost 90 years old? It’s because Abraham is to be the Father of Faith. As the Bible says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Gn 15:6).
Hebrews says about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, “All these died in faith. They did not receive what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar and acknowledged themselves to be strangers and aliens on earth, for those who speak thus show that they are seeking a homeland.” In his journey with God, Abraham learns to trust the Lord. At times he stumbles and falls, but he always turns back to God. He learns to trust that God will keep His promises, will keep His word, even though the promises are never fulfilled in his lifetime. We are Abraham’s children through faith, not by blood. We are called to follow his example of faith.
Just like Abraham, God made promises to us when Jesus says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mk 16:16). Just like Abraham we have a journey ahead of us, a pilgrimage or religious journey, before we can receive the promise. Just like Abraham, we won’t reach our destination until after we’ve died, as St. Paul said, “If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him” (Rm 6:8).
That’s why, in the Gospel, Jesus says, “Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” We aren’t called to just sit around waiting for God to do all the work; we are called to prepare for the Day of the Lord by cooperating with God’s grace working in our lives. In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells His disciples to gird their loins and light their lamps, to care for their fellow servants, and not to mistreat them. Just like Abraham obeyed God, even when it was difficult, so our faith should lead to obedience of the commandments. As Jesus said, “But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, to eat and drink and get drunk, then that servant’s master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish the servant severely and assign him a place with the unfaithful.”
The end of today’s Gospel should be especially concerning to those who teach the faith, like myself, “That servant who knew his master’s will but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be beaten severely; and the servant who was ignorant of his master’s will but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating shall be beaten only lightly. Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” So can we just claim ignorance as an excuse for our sins? No, because we are morally required to seek the truth and live it. Deliberate ignorance is itself a sin. Only genuine ignorance, or, as the Church calls us, invincible ignorance, is an excuse.
Finally, I want to talk about judging others. We try to justify ourselves by pointing at others. “Well, at least I’m not as bad as that.” We shouldn’t compare ourselves to other people, but to God. Don’t try to be better than someone else, but to be the person that God is calling you to be, and always be harder on your own sins than on someone else’s. Hypocrisy is the sin of being harder on others than on yourselves, and Jesus is constantly calling out the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, like when he told His disciples to do what they say, but not what they do. They teach the truth, but they don’t follow it themselves.
At the beginning of Mass I mentioned that yesterday was the Feast of St. Lawrence. When the Roman’s came to arrest Pope St. Sixtus and the oath six deacons of the Church of Rome, the spared St. Lawrence the Deacon and told him that he had 4 days to gather the treasury of the Church of Rome and turn it over, or else. He did gather the treasury, and he gave it to the needy. He went to the Roman officials with a group of the poor, indigent, sick, widows, and orphans, and told them, “Here is the treasure of the Church.” They martyred Him by roasting him on a gridiron, but he went to his death with good humor, telling the executioners, “Flip me over, I’m done on this side.” He could go to his death with joy, because he had faith in the promise of eternal life. Every time we approach this altar to receive the Eucharist we are given a taste, or a promise, as it were, of what awaits us in heaven. Prepare yourself every day so that, when that day comes, you can receive what was promised with joy.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.