The night of the passover was known beforehand to our fathers, that, with sure knowledge of the oaths in which they put their faith, they might have courage. Your people awaited the salvation of the just and the destruction of their foes. For when you punished our adversaries, in this you glorified us whom you had summoned. For in secret the holy children of the good were offering sacrifice and putting into effect with one accord the divine institution.(P) The word of the Lord.
Exult, you just, in the Lord; praise from the upright is fitting. Blessed the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he has chosen for his own inheritance. (R)
See, the eyes of the Lord are upon those who fear him, upon those who hope for his kindness, to deliver them from death and preserve them in spite of famine. (R)
Our soul waits for the Lord, who is our help and our shield. May your kindness, O Lord, be upon us who have put our hope in you. (R)
Brothers and sisters: Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. Because of it the ancients were well attested. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go. By faith he sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs of the same promise; for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God. By faith he received power to generate, even though he was past the normal age - and Sarah herself was sterile - for he thought that the one who had made the promise was trustworthy. So it was that there came forth from one man, himself as good as dead, descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sands on the seashore.
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. If they had been thinking of the land from which they had come, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better homeland, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer his only son, of whom it was said, "Through Isaac descendants shall bear your name." He reasoned the God was able to raise even form the dead, and he received Isaac back as a symbol.(P) The word of the Lord.
Jesus said to his disciples: "Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.
"Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master's return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them. And should he come in the second or third watch and find them prepared in this way, blessed are those servants. 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."
Then Peter said, "Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?" And the Lord replied, "Who, then, is the faithful and prudent steward whom the master will put in charge of his servants to distribute the food allowance at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master on arrival finds doing so. Truly, I say to you, the master will put the servant in charge of all his property. 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. 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."(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
Once a young man set out for a walk in the forest. Unaccustomed to outdoors, and having no GPS or map with him, he started to lose his sense of direction. As the minutes turned into hours, he began to feel hungry. He anxiously searched for food but could not find anything. Just when he was beginning to lose hope, he saw a notice board on a stake in the bushes. "Fresh bread, baked daily, follow the arrow." Delighted and rather relieved, the young man set off again walking in the direction the arrow pointed. Not long after, he saw a lone house sitting on a hillside and a big signboard beside the house with inscription that said: Fresh bread baked daily and then underneath in red letters, "We never close."
Feeling hungrier than ever, the young man knocked on the door. Sure enough, the door swung open, and he was greeted by an elderly woman. No sooner had the man said, "I saw your signs", than the woman, with a proud smile on her face, said, "Yes, aren't they good signs?" "Well ma'am, can I buy some bread?" the young man continued. "No, there is no bread", replied the old woman. "But the sign?" the man protested. "We only make signboards not bread", said the woman. Feeling incredulous and disheartened, the young man said, "I've never heard anything so ridiculous in all my life, a sign promising bread but then no bread!" And that said, he was walking away. Just then, the woman said to him, "You don't have to go away, young man. My husband and I will be delighted to share a meal with you."
This is only a story. Yet it stands as a reminder that if we live more authentic, meaningful and purposeful Christian lives, our hope in Jesus Christ will not disappoint us, deceive us, or delude us in the end. That is to say, every promised blessing, including the heavenly feast with the Lord Jesus Christ can be ours, if we keep our focus on Jesus and His directives, despite all the distractions of life, Hebrews (12:1-2). However, fear is an obstacle to living such a life, and it has been present in human beings since the beginning of time.
Knowing that the Israelites were full of fear, God told them numerous times, through His chosen servants, the prophets, not to fear in spite of overwhelming challenges or dangers, Isaiah (41:10; 43:1); Deuteronomy (31:6); Psalm (23:4); Psalm (27:1), and instead to put their confidence and trust in Him, all the time, Provers (3:5); Psalm (62:8); Joshua (1:9); Jeremiah (17:7-8). Moreover, God had promised, through the prophet Isaiah, to send a miraculous child, Emmanuel, which in Hebrew means "God is with us", Isaiah (7:14). Throughout His public ministry on earth, Jesus spent a great deal of time trying to point out to people that He is truly Emmanuel, the Promised One, and that all the miracles and wonders, which He was doing in their midst were, in fact, signs of God's presence. Yet, lots of people, including the twelve disciples who lived and walked with Jesus, heard His teaching and saw His miracles but still found it hard to have total faith in Him.
The Bible indicates that fear, rather than doubt, is the reason for lack of faith. The disciples did believe in the existence of God and in Christ, otherwise, they would not have so easily left behind all to follow Him. But they were often anxious and afraid. They feared storms, ridicule, shame, persecution, suffering and the future. And Jesus responded by rebuking them for their fear and lack of faith in Him and, at the same time, reassuring them of His presence with them always. He told them that they are more precious than sparrows and even the hairs of their head are all numbered; therefore, they should not have to worry about their life and their essential needs in life, such as food, drink, and clothing, Luke (12:6-7).
Furthermore, we read last week that Jesus warned His disciples about hoarding. After telling them the parable of the rich fool who was greedily storing up earthly possessions but unaware of his impending death that very night, Jesus encouraged them to detach themselves from self-centred desire for material possessions of this transient world and to store up, instead, "treasures in heaven" that will last forever, Luke (12:13-21).
In today's gospel, Jesus further illustrates the meaning of faith. He begins His teaching by calling His disciples, "little flock", to show how dear they were to Him and to God, and then tells them not to be afraid, Luke (12:32). They have no reason to fear, because as their good shepherd, He is near them; moreover, to prove once and for all His abundant love, God the Father wants, with great delight, to give them "the kingdom". Here, "the kingdom" refers not to the earthly kingdom which comes with worldly power, wealth, and prestige, but the heavenly kingdom, God's Kingdom. Saint Paul says, "God's Kingdom is not a matter of what we eat or drink but of living a life of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit", Romans (14:17). But to receive God's Kingdom, they must give away their money and possessions to those in need and depend on God for their security.
Knowing well beforehand that this demand would certainly cause some anxiety and fear in the hearts of the disciples, Jesus had begun His teaching saying, "little flock, do not be afraid". Jesus then further explains how setting their heart on worldliness could distract them from pursuing God's Kingdom. He said "Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be", Luke (12:34). In other words, if the disciples' treasure is on earth, then their mind, heart and soul will be on earthly matters. However, if their treasure is in heaven, then their heart and attention will be on the heavenly things that are focused on God.
Further along the way, Jesus tells a wedding analogy. In fact, Jesus has used the analogy of the wedding feast many times. He says, "Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master's return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them", Luke (12:35-37).
Literally, the expression "Gird your loins" refers the ancient practice of pulling or tucking up one's long robe into a girdle, that is, belt, when preparing for manual labour or battle or fast action. With the addition of the lamps in the analogy, fast action is expected at night. According to the analogy, the master has gone to a wedding banquet and, it is not known when he will return. It could be anytime - late evening, midnight or even in the early morning hours. So, it is reasonable for the servants to wait until evening and then put out the lamps and go to sleep. These servants, however, are awake, dressed in appropriate clothes, have their lamps burning and are ready to open the door the moment their master returns. No matter how late into the night it is, the servants eagerly and joyfully wait to receive and serve their master. When the master finally arrives and finds his servants watchful and faithful, rewards them by serving them himself the best.
At the time of Jesus, it was usual for servants to sit at the table, and for their masters to serve them. A similar custom is said to have existed among the Romans, Cretans and Babylonians. It is difficult to judge whether Jesus alludes to any of these. But of one thing we can be sure, through this analogy, Jesus wants his disciples to know how acceptable their zeal and faithfulness in discharging their duties will be to Him, and how highly He will reward them for it.
Jesus goes on to tell another analogy of a master of a house who would stay awake if he knew when a thief would come to break into his house. In this analogy Jesus seems to stress the state of readiness for an expected "coming". Then Jesus declares to His disciples, "You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come", Luke (12:40). Putting this all together, we learn that Jesus, the Son of Man, wants His followers not to be anxious or afraid, but to share their earthly possessions with the needy; to have a trusting faith in God's promises; and to be ready always for His Second Coming but on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour. If they are good, and stayed faithful until His return, they will be rewarded.
But Peter then wants to know if the teaching is addressed only to the disciples or to everyone. Jesus does not answer Peter's question directly. Instead, he tells another parable about a wise and faithful manager or steward. The master, before leaving for his journey places his most trustworthy servant over all the others. He must supervise their work, and provide for their needs in the absence of his master. The manager is blessed when his master returns and discovers him faithful in his work. The master will graciously reward him with promotion. If, however, because of the master's delay, the manager mistreats those under him and misuses the master's goods to satiate his own greed, the master who comes unexpectedly and finds the servant in the midst of his mischief, will punish him severely and put him among those undeserving of trust.
Even more so, the manager who knows his master's plan but does not prepare himself for his master's return and does not do what is expected of him will be more severely punished. This contrasts with the servant who knew what was expected from him but failed to do it. His punishment would be less severe. Jesus concludes His teaching by saying: "Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more demanded of the person entrusted with more", Luke (12:48).
"The servants" in the first parable refers to Jesus' contemporaries who were called to a special life of holiness and were given laws to help them love God with all their hearts and minds, and to prepare for the coming of the master of the house, that is the Messiah who had, in fact, already come among them in the person of Jesus. He kept knocking at the doors of their hearts through prophets, such as John the Baptist. But their preoccupation with ritual questions and political matters led them to ignore John's message and to reject the one pointed to as "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world", John (1:29).
Jesus did not want his disciples to be blind, obstinate and ignorant of His return like the others. He rather wanted them, as watchful servants, to be ready for His return at any time and to receive their eternal rewards. And at the same time, He also reminded them that they were also stewards who were entrusted with the good news of God's great gift of salvation. Since they had a greater responsibility, Jesus warned them that they would be held more accountable and be judged more severely than others.
What is the message for us?
The disciples, who were once so cowardly and afraid, became bold after the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Believing in His promises, they joyfully pledged themselves to Him and, literally sold all their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need and, thereafter, took the gospel to the ends of the earth, Acts (2:45). They spent their time doing God's work and seeking His kingdom till the end. Like the apostles, we all fear a variety of things in life, such as job loss, heights, bugs, public speaking, flying, separation, loneliness, sicknesses, death and so on.
A certain amount of fear is normal and human but oftentimes in our life, fears become, as Thomas Aquinas puts it, "disordered" - that is, excessive. Excessive fear can affect not only our physical and mental health but also moral life. It can cause our scope of vision to narrow; can keep us from doing what we need to do; and can drain joy out of life. In his best-known work "the Summa Theologica" Aquinas writes, "Fear is such a powerful emotion for humans that when we allow it to take over us, it drives compassion right out of our hearts." Indeed, fear causes us to focus on ourselves and to disconnect from others; and, it hinders the spirit of generosity.
As Christians, we should not hold on to material things for fear of lack of safety and certainty but rather take courage to share them generously with our needy neighbours. And at the same time, we must respond to fear with hope and confidence in the Heavenly Father who promises to give us the means of life and to enable us to experience a little of heaven while here on earth and in due time to behold Him in His kingdom.
As servants of the Lord, both the Church and Christian pastors, must never lose sight of our responsibilities, particularly our primary task of preaching and teaching God's Word, telling people simply and clearly who God is and what He has done through His Son Jesus Christ for us and all mankind. If we fail to carry out what God has entrusted to us or squander the Christian discipleship along with all of God's other gifts rather than putting it to good use for the salvation of others, we will be judged severely and will be eternally separated from Him.
However, if we, the ministers of the church fall into idleness or are distracted by the worldly cares and, as a result, fail to discern or ignore the signs of the times to feed the people and to nourish them through the means of preaching, teaching, and discipling, we will be judged more severely than those servants, though wicked, do not know and are unfaithful in their work.
God Bless You!