THIRTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – SOLEMNITY OF CHRIST THE KING – November 22 2020

GOD THE JUDGE… TO SAVE

Subtitles

“Go, cursed people, out of my sight into the eternal fire, which has been prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt 25:41). These are the most terrible words that we find in the Gospel and are not the only ones on the lips of Jesus. Luke and Matthew remember others: “I don’t know where you come from! Away from me, all you workers of evil” (Lk 13:27). “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom all that is scandalous and all who do evil. And these will be thrown into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt 13:41-42). “Bind his hands and feet and throw him into the dark” (Mt 22:13). “But his master will come on the day he does not know, and at the hour he least expects. He will dismiss that servant, and deal with him as with the hypocrites. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt 24:50-51).

These phrases are clearly etched in our minds. They have inspired legions of artists who painted scenes of terror, despair, and torment. They have suggested lyrics such as the Dies irae, the most impressive of the descriptions of the Last Judgment. They have offered inspiration to musicians who have translated into soundsthe anguish of the crucial moment when Christ will pronounce the final judgment.

The judgment of God as the Gospel presents continues to be seen by many today as a dramatic rendering of account. Thus, an encounter with the Lord, far from being desired and expected, is for everyone a bigunknown, even for the righteous. In the face of the One who who can charge his angels with error” (Job 4:18)who can feel safe? Many Christians already consider a great luck being able to take a few years off frompurgatory. 

Is this the justice of God?

To internalize the message, we repeat: 

“Let the heavens rejoice and earth be glad because the Lord judges the world… with his justice.”

VOICE OVER

First Reading: Ezekiel 34:11–12,15-17

In 587 B.C. Jerusalem and its marvelous temple were destroyed, the walls razed to the ground. The Babylonian soldiers gave themselves up to all sorts of violence and barbarism. Someone escaped themassacre by taking refuge in the desert, some other fled into Egypt, many were taken prisoners and exiled toa foreign land. In the village, only the poorest remained: some winemaker, a peasant, a few craftsmen.

After a few years, and among those who remained at home, the more skilled and savvier begin to emerge. They know how to take advantage of the situation of extreme need faced by the majority of the people. They exploit those who are impoverished by misfortunes and woes. They buy, sell, unscrupulously traffic goods and so are able to enrich themselves.

It is at this sad time that the prophecy being proposed to us today is announced. Thinking back to themisfortunes that have struck his people, Ezekiel compares the Israelites to a flock without a shepherd and in disarray; and pronounces at the same time a message of salvation. He does not announce the advent of other kings, who would not have been the best precedents that had led the people to ruin. Instead he promises thatGod will personally take care of his sheep (v. 11), will gather them from all the places where they weredispersed “in a time of cloud and fog” (v. 12), and will take them to good pastures on the high mountains of Israel (v. 15). 

Then he directs a threat to those who hoard goods trampling on the rights of the weakest. To his “flock,” the Lord assures: I will distinguish between one sheep and another; and set apart rams and goats” (v. 17). It is the promise of his prompt intervention in favor of the oppressed, the poor, and the exploited.



Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:20-26,28

The rabbis believed that at the coming of the Messiah, a first realm would begin—called the “kingdom of the Messiah”—which would be succeeded by a second, the “kingdom of God.” Paul—educated at their school—had assimilated this opinion and thought that the first kingdom would last as the history of humankind andwould conclude at the end of the world.

It is in this historical perspective that today’s reading is understood. Paul is convinced that gradually the Messiah will destroy, during his reign, all his enemies. His victory will be complete when the last adversary,death, is finally defeated (vv. 25-26).

The enemies whose annihilation is announced are not persons but the forces of evil, all that prevents people to live in fullness their own existence in the world. These are disease, famine, or nakedness, ignorance, slavery, fear, hatred, selfishness, and sin. When these negative realities disappear, then the kingdom of the Messiah can be said as accomplished. For this reason, anyone who is committed against these evils—even if he/she is not Christian, though not a believer—collaborates on the project of the Messiah.

When this kingdom will be established in the world and the enemies of Christ, including death, have beendefeated, then he will hand over to the Father his reign and the kingdom of God that will last for all eternity will begin (v. 28). 

After this explanation, the reading’s first verses are clear (vv. 20-24). Christ did not eliminate biological death: the human body, like that of every living thing, wears out and ends up being consumed. He has conquered death because he has deprived it of its meaning of annihilation, total destruction and turned it into abirth to the full and definitive life. 


Gospel: Matthew 25:31-46 

A God who ruthlessly condemns is, for a Christian, quite embarrassing. One cannot understand how the terrible threats referred to in verses 41-46 can be regarded as “gospel,” that is, as “good news,” as “message of salvation.”

There is an even greater challenge: how can a severe God who appears in today’s passage agree with the Father the whole Gospel speaks about? He who makes his sun rise on both the wicked and the good and he gives rain to both the just and the unjust,” demanding of his children not to make distinctions between good and evil (Mt 5:43-48). How can one, to a certain point, order a separation which tells us not to do anything? Ifone throws eternal fire to his enemies, he cannot require us to love our enemies (Mt 19:10). Jesus, who came “to seek and to save the lost” (Lk 19:10) and boasts of being a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Lk 7:34), will he be able stand against us one day?

The “justice” of this God leaves much to be desired: could the sin of a person (frail, limited, finite creature) be punished with an infinite, “everlasting” punishment? There is no proportion between punishment and failure.If, on the other hand, the person remains free—as is certain—for all eternity, why should wrongdoers persist intheir errors? What will make them so stubborn? Maybe the encounter with God? These are some of the manyquestions that are raised against this passage of the Gospel. These are serious questions, but they might have originated from an incorrect interpretation of the text.

The question arises when we consider the context in which this description of the “trial” is placed. It’s enough to read what follows. After the great scene in which the Son of Man deploys all his power, here is what happens: “In two days’ time it will be Passover and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified” (Mt 26:2). It is like being left speechless: from the celebration of triumph one passes to the most ignoble of defeats. They look like two opposing, irreconcilable situations, and yet, these are two glorious moments of a singlevictory, the victory of love. The Christ who “judges” also delivers himself into the hands of those he loves and justly “inasmuch as victim of love” he becomes a judge: He is the “ideal man” after God, the true man, withwhom all have to be compared, even from now on, to see if they are building the life or are laying the groundwork for failure. We will return to the argument. Now let’s examine the text.

In Palestine, at sunset, shepherds tend to separate the sheep from the goats. The latter are more sensitiveto cold and are placed under a roof. The sheep, covered with wool, like the cool of the night and have no problem spending the night in the open. Jesus uses this image, taken from everyday life, to convey his message. To understand it, we must pay attention, first, to the literary genre. A hasty, superficial reading,perhaps a bit naïve, of the Gospel risks to draw theological conclusions that, in the light of a more attentive and careful study, may appear unfounded and even deviant.

The language is typical of the preachers of that time. To stir their listeners, they tended to use stunning images, tremendous punishments, unquenchable fire and eternal penalties. It was said, for example: “As the human race trembles, the beasts are happy, because it goes well with them that humans need not wait for any judgment.” Listen carefully, though: when rabbis spoke of the “fire of Gehenna.” They did not refer to hell, but the fire that burned constantly in the valley surrounding Jerusalem that served as the city dump. The adjective“eternal” did not have the philosophical connotations it has today, but it was popularly used to mean, in general terms, a “long,” “undefined” period. 

This Gospel passage is generally regarded as a parable, but this is not accurate. It belongs to the genrecalled judgment scene, found both in the Bible (cf. Dan 7) and in rabbinic literature. The structured schema is always the same: there is a presentation of the judge, accompanied by angels who serve as assistants andsecurity guards, then the convocation of all people, the separation of groups, the sentencing and finally the righteous are rewarded and the wicked punished. 

The aim of this literary genre is not to inform about what will happen at the end of the world, but to teachhow to behave today.

As an example, here’s a judgment scene of the rabbinic literature showing an impressive analogy with our text: “In the future world who is judged will be asked: What are your works? If he answers: ‘I fed who was hungry,’ he will be told: This is the Lord’s gate, enter through it’ (Ps 118:20). If he answers: ‘I have given drink to the thirsty,’ he will be told: This is the gate of the Lord come through it;’ if he answers: ‘I have clothed the naked,’ he will be told, This is the gate of the Lord, go through it.’ The same will apply to one who has taken care of the orphan, who has given alms, who has produced works of love (Midrash of the Psalm 118:17).

Referring to the dialogue, it is clear that the rabbis did not intend to reveal the words that God will deliver at the end of the world. They, instead, wanted to instill the values ​​that will serve as a solid foundation for life inthis world.

Let us now examine the structure of the passage in Matthew. It is easy to define. It begins with an introduction (vv. 31-33) followed by two dialogues (vv. 34-40; 41-46) that develop in a parallel and identical way: the king pronounces the sentence (approval in a case and conviction on the other) and explains why.Both cases raise an objection to which the judge responds respectively.

It is also easy to set the message Jesus wants to convey: the years of a person’s life are precious, a treasure to be managed well. No one can go wrong because life is one: Jesus suggests how one must live. 

The rabbis said: this world is like a dry land; the future world is like the ocean; if a person does not prepare food on dry land what will he eat on the sea? This world is like a cultivated land, the future world as a wilderness; if a person does not prepare food on cultivated land what will he eat in the desert? He will grind his teeth and bite his flesh; desperate, he will tear his clothes and riff off his hair. 

For Jesus, human life is more important than for the rabbis, so he reveals to the disciples the values ​​thatwill provide a secure basis for this human life. What values​​? It is not hard to spot them because they occupyhalf of the story and are so important that Jesus repeated them four times, at the risk of appearingmonotonous: it is the six works of mercy.

The list of people to help—the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned (vv. 35-36,42-43) was known throughout the Middle East (cf. Is 58:6-7). The chapter 125 of the Book of the Dead is famous. In Egypt, the text, since the second millennium B.C., was placed with the deceased at the time ofburial. This was what he had to testify before the court of Osiris: “I have practiced what gladdens the gods. I have given bread to the hungry, I gave water to the thirsty, I have clothed the naked, I offered a trip to those who had no boat.” The only novelty brought by Jesus is that He identifies with these people: what is done to one of these little ones, is done to him.

The values he ​​suggests are not similar to those for which most people lose their heads, but they are whatreally counts in the eyes of God.

What is the ideal successful person in our society? The one who holds power, who is rich, who can afford to satisfy his every whim, who is wanted by the TV cameras. “Successful people” are an athlete driving the stadiums crazy, the TV star or anyone who has managed to become a character by notoriety or by career.

What is the thought of God? At the conclusion of the story of every person on earth, when each is alonewith oneself and with God, only love will be precious. The life of each one will be considered a success or failure according to the commitment of the person in the elimination of six situations of suffering and poverty: hunger, thirst, exile, nakedness, sickness, imprisonment.

A detail is carefully highlighted in the story: none of those who have done these works of mercy hasrealized of having done them to Christ. Love is true only if it is disinterested, even if it is free of any suspicion of complacency; the one who acts in view of the reward, even that of heaven, does not yet love genuinely. 

And the sentence? The rabbis used to repeat their teachings twice to better imprint it in the minds of their disciples. Often, they first presented the message positively and then negatively. They resorted to the familiar“antithetical parallelism,” also used by Jesus (cf. Lk 6:20-26; Mt 7:24-27; Mk 16:16 …).

Our passage is an example of this: the second part (vv. 41-45) adds absolutely nothing to the first; it is a stylistic record to highlight the concept already expressed. What urges Jesus is not to terrorize his listeners, stirring in them their fright of hell, but to indicate with strong images the very serious danger of wasting life—that is what really counts. He does not claim to announce what will happen at the end of the world, but tothink, to open the eyes, and to show God’s judgment on the decisions we take each day. 

A simple example may help us better understand what was said. In a jewelry shop, two necklaces are on display, one of pure gold but a little worn out by time, the other of burnished brass but very polished. An inexperienced buyer enters and is attracted and fascinated by the brilliance of the brass necklace. Fortunately, an expert appears and warns him: Beware—he says—don’t waste your money on this bauble or trifle! 

This judgment saves the inexperienced buyer. Even in the case that the knowledgeable will use harsh and threatening expressions, his judgment would always be a judgment of salvation.

Believing that the judgment scene described by Jesus refers to the condemnation of sinners to the torments of hell is, at best, risky. Hell exists but is not a place created by God to punish, at the end of life, who has behaved badly. It is a condition of unhappiness and despair resulting from sin. However, one can get out of hell, of sin through Christ: our liberation comes from Christ and his judgment of salvation.

But, in the end, will God not punish the wicked?

A judge seems just to us when, after evaluating their crime, he punishes with equity. But this is not thejustice of God. He’s not just because he rewards or punishes according to our standards and expectations—in this case, there would be no hope for anyone, and all will end convicted—but because he is able to make the wicked righteous (cf. Rom 3:21-26).

The question, therefore, is not who will be counted as sheep and goats at the end of the world, but in what occasions today do we behave as sheep and behave as goats. We are sheep when we love our brother or sister; we are goats when we neglect him or her.

What will happen at the end?

 It is truly hard to believe that the good shepherd—from whom no one will be able to snatch even one of his sheep (cf. Jn 10:28)—after leaving us jump like kids to the right and to the left, will not find a way to turn us allinto his lambs.

READ:  The Gospel presents the Last Judgment where Christ, the judge, bares our soul to us.  Christ the King will finally deliver the Kingdom to the Father, having defeated death once and for all.  Matthew offers the final criterion for eternal life:  How did I treat others?  Nothing matters as much.

PRAY:  With the power of the Holy Spirit, pray that you may recognize those in need.  Pray that good be done to the world through you without you being aware of it.

ACT:  Look for opportunities to meet Jesus’ expectations in your daily life.

REFLECT:  How funny or strange it would have been, if the people on the right answered thus: “Yeah, Lord, we knew it was you we were serving when we fed the hungry and clothed the naked.”  It doesn’t fit the script, right?  The remarkable thing is, these good souls had no idea they were serving Christ when they were engaging in these acts of mercy!  Doing good was just their second (or first) nature?  Goodness is never so better when done unawares.  How about you?

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FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT – YEAR “B”

WAITING FOR HIS COMING

Subtitles

“A man of noble birth went to a distant country to assume regal authority, after which he planned to return home. He summoned ten of his servants and gave them ten pounds of silver. He said, ‘Put this money to work until I get back’” (Lk 19:12-13).

From this parable and from the limited translation of some words of the Lord, as, for example, “I will not leave you orphans, I am coming to you” (Jn 14:18), the idea arose that, on the day of the Ascension, Jesuswould leave his disciples to return, in the splendor of His glory, at the end of time. The expression “return of the Lord,” although commonly used, could be misunderstood. The liturgical texts avoid it because Jesus has not left us; he did not go away, our life is not lived in his absence.

The Greeks imagined Zeus imperturbable on Mount Olympus, blessed beyond human misery. He was, according to the oracle of Pausanias, “the one who was, is and will be.” The Christian God is different, “the onewho is, who was and who is to come” (Rev 1:8); not “the Lord who returns,” but one who never ceases tocome. Upon entering, the Lord commits himself to in the history of the world and renews, together with man,the whole of creation: he cures the sick, heals the wounds caused by sin, stems the hatred, preaches love andguides the world “into the way of peace” (Lk 1:79).

The early Christians implored: “Maranatha: Come, O Lord!” (1 Cor 16:22). “Come, Lord Jesus” is the invocation which concludes the book of Revelation (Rev 22:20).


 

To internalize the message, we repeat:

“Come, Lord Jesus! Come and, with us, renew the world.”

First Reading: Isaiah 63:16-17,19; 64:1-7

The people of Israel were in exile in Babylon. A few years passed after the destruction of Jerusalem andthose deported kept alive the memory of the humiliation they still had engraved in the eyes of their minds thegruesome scenes of that terrible day in July of 587 BCE. The soldiers of Nebuchadnezzar demolishing the walls, the king’s palaces all in flames, the terrified women fleeing with children in their arms, and the Edomites, shouting: “Tear it down! Tear it down! Down to its foundations!” (Ps 137:7).

While the deportees were looking for the reason of such a horrible disaster, their poet wrote the touchingprayer from which today’s reading is taken. It is one of the most beautiful prayers of the whole Bible.

The passage opens with a heartfelt cry to God: “For you are our father… from the beginning you are our Redeemer” (v. 16).

Unlike the other nations, which normally attributed to their gods the name of “father,” the Jews werereluctant to give this title to their God. They did not call him father, first of all, because they refused to equatehim with  the pagan gods that—it was said—generated sons and daughters and often married the women of the earth (Gen 6:2); Jews had a father, Abraham.

In Babylon, however, they realized that neither Abraham, nor Isaac, nor Jacob could help them. The patriarchs had every reason to be ashamed of their degenerate children, “Abraham does not know us nor has Israel any knowledge of us” (Is 63:16).

It is in this historical context that, for the first time in the Bible, God is invoked as a father, a name which will be constantly used by Jesus to refer to God. In the Gospels, it recurs 184 times in his mouth.

Even the term ‘redeemer’ is very significant. It referred to the nearest relative, the one who bore the responsibility to redeem a family member who had lost his freedom, was a prisoner, or because of debts, had become a slave to his creditor. This overriding duty was fulfilled in two ways: by collecting the amount requiredfor the redemption or handing oneself over in place of a relative.

After the destruction of Jerusalem, the situation was catastrophic for Israel. She could not count on any redeemer because all of them were slaves. All that remained was to turn to God, beg him to take on the task ofa redeemer.

After this initial invocation, the prayer turns into a lament: Why have you made us stray from your ways? Why have you let our hearts become so hard?” (v. 17).

The question is dramatic; it is an expression of the distressing enigma that men and women of all time find themselves asking:. Why does God, almighty, not prevent evil? Why does he not preserve us from the failures and the choices of death? Why does he allow our vices and passions to drive us awayfrom his love?

These are questions that no one has ever been able to give a satisfactory answer! Only during prayer can one see the light.

In order to strengthen their faith, to find reasons for hope, the author of this wonderful passage looks backto the past (64:1-3). He remembers that God always intervenes to illuminate the dark nights of his people. He has in mind especially the night of liberation from Egypt and concludes: “No one has ever heard or perceived, no eye has ever seen a God besides you who works for those who trust in him” (64:3).

Gathered in prayer, the deportees re-read their story and become aware of their mistakes: “You are angry with our sins…. We have all withered like leaves, blown away by our iniquities” (vv. 4-6).

This realization, which should bring them discouragement, instead makes them confidently exclaim: “And yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay and you are our potter; we are the work of your hand” (v. 7).Inner peace, hope, an optimistic look to the future are graces always obtained through sincere prayer. A person cannot but feel safe when he is aware of being in the arms of a father who takes care of him.

Read in the light of the whole biblical revelation, the story of the exiles is an image of the mishaps thatinevitably befall those who choose paths that lead them away from God. Disappointment, loneliness, shame, and misery are the bitter consequences of sin.

Why God does not intervene to prevent us from sinning remains a question that we also ask.

Since he created man free, God appears no longer omnipotent. Even the rabbis had understood and spoken of the tzimtzum of God (the consequence of God granting free will to people, is a contract whereby He limits himself from acting against a person’s free choices). In some way—they believed—he haslimited his own power and is exposed to the risk of receiving a humiliating “no” from his creatures.

But love is as strong as death … it burns like a blazing fire” (Song 8:6); it never resigns to defeat. God, who takes into account our waste of his gifts, is forced by his love to continue to look for us. He cannot impose himself; he cannot overpower our freedom, but his passion is so overwhelming that—according to Saint Edith Stein—it is “infinitely improbable” that, even in one case, he will remain forever defeated.


 Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:3-9

The first letter to the Corinthians begins with these verses. It was written by Paul to a community that had enthusiastically welcomed the Gospel, but then gave in to the lure of paganism; it had fallen back into the old vices. The Apostle was aware of these moral miseries and, later in the letter, he condemns them severely. However, at the beginning, he employs a gentle and polite approach with which he highlights the wonders wrought by the grace of God; he recognizes that the Corinthians have been enriched with all spiritual gifts, including of word and knowledge (v. 5).

It is surprising that there is no reference to virtue and the most important qualities: faith, hope and love thatshone in the letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thes 1:3) or to the generous dedication to the cause of the Gospelin which the Philippians excelled (Phil 1:5). Subtly, Paul gives a hint to the Corinthians that, in their communities, not everything is perfect and the grace of Christ would greater fruit if there was a better response. Their falling back into the ways of this world has made them forget they are waiting for the Lord who comes.

In the second part of the passage (vv. 6-9), the Apostle recalls this truth: “Await the glorious coming of the Lord.” He is aware of his Christians’ spiritual fragility but is also convinced that, despite their weaknesses, God will bring to completion the work begun. His loyalty is not affected by their human response. If he called the Corinthians to salvation, he will continue to accompany their spiritual growth until he has brought them into theglorious fellowship with Christ.

This statement is not an expression of naive and superficial optimism, but  an invitation to cultivateChristian hope based on the gratuitousness of God’s love.


Gospel: Mark 13:33-37

To be alert and to keep watch are the keywords of this passage from the Gospel of St Mark. They are repeated with an almost excessive insistence: “Be alert and watch!” (v. 33), “he orders the doorkeeper to stay awake” (v. 34), “so stay awake” (v. 35), “I say to all: stay awake!” (v. 37).

The recommendation to be alert is so important that Jesus repeats it with a parable: “When a man goes abroad and leaves his home, he puts his servants in charge, giving to each one some responsibility and he orders the doorkeeper to stay awake” (v. 34).

The bond of the parable with “So stay awake, for you don’t know when the Lord of the house will come (v. 35) is not immediately apparent. The invitation to stay awake was first addressed only to the porter (v. 34),then it is extended to all (v. 35). It is a small discrepancy probably due to the fact that Jesus had addressed the parable to his disciples, to remind them of the duty to preserve and make fruitful the treasures left by him, before returning to the Father. It is the evangelist who sees fit to extend it to all the members of hiscommunities, to remind them to be vigilant, in waiting for the coming of the Lord.

What does it mean to ‘be alert’? Why such insistence on the night? Why does the master, instead of coming during the day, arrives suddenly when nobody expects him? Who is the doorkeeper? Who is themaster? Where did he go? What powers has he left to his servants?

Before answering these questions, which will introduce us to the message of the parable, it is important to plumb the meaning of v. 35: “So stay awake, therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house comes.” Jesus is not referring to his return at an unspecified distant moment in the future, but his constantrenewing presence in the world.

We begin to identify the main character of the parable. The master of the house is Jesus, but he has notgone; he has only changed his way of being present among his own. Now he is closer to every person thanwhen he was walking the streets of Palestine. Having entered the world of the resurrected he is no longer subject to the limits of our human condition. That’s why he invited his disciples to always keep alive the senseof his presence in their midst: I am with you always, even to the end of this world” (Mt 28:20). It is not, because only one who has the light of faith can truly scan the thick darkness of night.  

The fact the Lord warns that he comes at night is also worth noting. Like a thief, he comes when the world is shrouded in darkness: “If the owner of the house knew at what time the thief was coming, he would certainly stay up and not allow his house to be broken into” (Mt 24:43). The ten virgins were also surprised in their sleep. They were waiting for the bridegroom who tarried; they all slumbered and slept; “But at midnight, a cry rang out, ‘the bridegroom is here, come out and meet him’” (Mt 25:5-6).

Why so much emphasis on the theme of the night?

The Masters of Israel  taught that, in the history of the world, there were four great nights. The first at the time of creation: the sun and the moon did not exist and it was night when God said, “Let there be light”(Gen 1:3). There was a second night, one in which God made the covenant with Abraham (Gen 15). Then a third, the mother of all nights, the liberation of Israel from Egypt; it was “this is the watch for the Lord—all Israel are also to keep vigil on this night, year after year, for all time” (Ex 12:42).

The fourth night is the one Israel still awaits: God will intervene in it to create the new world and to begin his reign.

When, in the New Testament, the coming of the Lord during the night is mentioned, it refers to this fourthnight. This is our night; it’s the time we live in, the time that is dark, the time in which the proposals of life that shape the majority consensus are hedonistic, not the beatitudes of Jesus.

This fourth night is further subdivided by Mark, according to the popular Roman computation, into four parts, duly called: evening, midnight, cockcrow, morning (v. 35), to emphasize the warning to be alert, not todoze off even for an instant.

Anyone who has sight guided by love allows himself to be challenged by the events of life, and knows how to identify the signs that the hopes of a new world are beginning to be realized. The one who is vigilant is ready to welcome the Lord who comes and is able to recognize him in those who seek peace, dialogue, and reconciliation; he sees him in the poor who, without resorting to violence, are committed to justice ; and sees him in the stranger who seeks aid, and embraces him in those who are alone and in need of comfort.

Darkness scares and, at some point, it becomes so dense that even the Christian gifted with strong faith can lose sight of his Lord and be overcome by fatigue, boredom, despair. When he feels his eyelids grow heavy with sleep, he must call to mind Paul’s exhortation: Take courage! “The night (the fourth and final night)is almost over and the day is at hand!” (Rom 13:12).

There is a secret to keeping oneself awake, it is prayer understood as a constant dialogue with the Lord.The one who does not pray dozes off. He will eventually end up resigned and will adapt, like unbelievers, to the darkness that envelops the world (Mk 14:37-40).

The servants, another ‘character’ in the parable, represent the disciples engaged in the execution of their Lord’s projects. To each is given a task, a mission to be carried out in accordance with his own capabilities. No one has to wait passively for the host to accomplish his work. The servants are the performers.

The doorkeeper, who has to be more vigilant than others, represents those in the Christian communityresponsible for carrying out the most important services, those on  whom the life of the Church depends on for the proclamation of the Word of God, the celebration of the sacraments, and the support of disciples who are wavering in their faith. These doorkeepers have to be more vigilant than others in their thoughts, their words, in their choices of lifestyle. They are encouraged to always behave as “children of the light,” never “children of darkness,” because they have to keep awake their weaker brothers and sisters who are in danger of being deceived by the dominant mentality of this world.


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THIRTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – November 15 2020

IT SEEMS PRUDENCEBUT IT’S COWARDICE

Subtitles

Jesus recommended to be “wise as serpents” (Mt 10:16), and yet, his behavior and his words seem distant from what is commonly meant by prudence. He pronounced invectives against the scribes and Pharisees (Mt 23) and joked about their gait in “long robes” (Mk 12:38), has turned against the Sadducees, disavowing their theological convictions (Mt 22:23-33), he called Herod “fox” (Lk 13:32) and launched barbs to kings, “wrapped in soft raiment, living in luxurious palaces” (Mt 11:8). He broke the Sabbath, frequented the company of the infamous and impure people, called the spiritual guides of the people “serpents, brood of vipers,” (Mt 23:33) and claimed that the tax collectors and the prostitutes would have preceded them in the kingdom of heaven (Mt 21:31). What kind of prudence is this? 

The alternative was not to move from Nazareth and to limit oneself to plane work, to keep the mouth shut or to open it only to flatter. It was to ignore the hungry, tired, in disarray crowd “like sheep without a shepherd” (Mk 6:34) or to close the heart to compassion before the man with a withered hand, and resign oneself to the fact that sometimes a man accounts less than a sheep (Mt 12:12). It was also to plug one’s ears in order not to hear the cry of the lepers (Lk 17:13) and to let the adulterous woman be stoned to death (Jn 8:5). 

            The prudence of God is not that of people, an excuse to laziness, idleness, inertia, disinterest. It is better to run the risk of making a mistake for love rather than give up fighting for the great values​​; it is better to see the seed of the word rejected by barren ground—as it happened to Paul at the Areopagus (Acts 17:32-34)— than to hide it shrouded in silence, out of fear. 

Voice Over

To internalize the message, repeat: 

“Full joy is getting oneself involved, without fear in the projects of the Lord.” 

First Reading: Proverbs 31:10-13,19-20,30-31

            “Four traits are found in women: They are greedy, curious, lazy and jealous. They are also whiners and talkative.” The rabbis of Jesus’ time spoke thus and, between the serious and the humorous, they added: “When God created the world, he had to have ten baskets of words. The women took nine and the men got one.” 

            Jokes (often miserable) on women are found in the proverbs of all nations, and it is no wonder that they are also found in the books of the Bible. There are texts of the Old Testament in which the woman appears as a seductress, garrulous, jealous, curious, vain (Sir 25:12-25). They are a reflection of the mentality of the time. 

            Today’s reading presents a passage in which the woman is praised. It ensures that the perfect woman is invaluable; by comparison, the pearls which is much appreciated in ancient times, appear despicable and vile (v. 10). 

            But the woman can even be dangerous, she can turn into a seductress. Sirach warns that it’s easy to fall into the nets of the woman of ill-repute or remain entranced by the blandishments of a singer (Sir 9:3-4). How can we distinguish a woman of value from a sorceress? What features make her recognizable? Here’s the list. 

            First, she is a good wife, she makes her husband happy and spreads peace, serenity, and harmony in the family (vv. 10-12). 

            She is hardworking (vv. 13,19), she works all the time. She does not waste time on silly and frivolous chatter. She gives herself to working so that in her house everything is in order and everyone is satisfied and happy. She is preoccupied not only with her husband and children, but also wants her servants to be well-dressed and have plenty of food. 

            The industriousness of the woman was also underlined by the rabbis: “The woman—they admitted—always works even while talking. It is not the habit of women to sit at home doing nothing.”

            The third quality: she has a big heart. She does not close herself in the sweet familiar nest she managed to build. She looks around and, facing the needs of those less fortunate, she feels compassion, rushes to the aid of those in need, and shares what she has with the underprivileged (v. 20). 

            The fourth and final characteristic: she is religious, devout, and faithful to the commandments of God (v. 30). The rabbis said: “The woman thinks only of her beauty.” The reading’s ideal woman belies this stereotype. Her heart is not vain. She is interested in what really counts in life. 

            Are there many women of this kind? Today’s passage begins with a provocative question: “Who can find such a perfect woman?” (v. 10). We can answer, without fear of contradiction, that yes, there are many. The significant fact is that this Sunday’s liturgy, speaking of hard work, dedication and commitment, has chosen to associate these virtues to the woman. It is an invitation to reflect. 

Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6

            We have already said last Sunday that there were tensions and concerns in Thessalonica because there was a widespread belief that the end of the world and the Lord’s return were imminent. 

            Desiring to get a clarification on the matter, the Thessalonians had instructed Timothy and Silas to ask Paul if he was able to give precise information about the time in which these events would occur. 

            In today’s reading, the apostle answers: it is not possible to know it (v. 1) and gives the reason. God—he says—usually acts in an unpredictable manner. He intervenes when you least expect it; he behaves like a thief who comes suddenly when people are sleeping. It’s like the pains of giving birth that appear during the night (vv. 2-3). 

            He concludes that it’s not worth it to investigate in order to find out the day and the hour of the coming of the Lord. What is important is to avoid being enveloped by the darkness of evil. Christians should not run into this danger because, from the day of their baptism, they have become children of the light and children of the day. It is impossible for them to be caught by surprise, as it happens to those who are in darkness or are groggy from sleep (vv. 4-6). 

Gospel: Matthew 25:14-30 

            The hardness of the master toward the third servant seems excessive. He could—in our opinion—show himself more understanding because his employee, in addition to feeling intimidated, perhaps also had the impression of being underestimated. It is in this context that, in the early centuries of the Church, someone has touched up the parable and has concluded as follows: the third servant was not dishonest, he was only afraid, so the master only rebuked him gently. There was also a fourth servant to whom some talents were given. He gave himself to the good life; he squandered it all with harlots and flute players. The master put him in jail. But everyone was treated with mercy.

            The one who has changed the story in this way did not understand that Jesus did not intend to give a moral lesson on honesty and how to invest the money, but rather on the commitment in putting to good use the treasures that belong to everyone. As for the alleged poor esteem of the master for the third servant, this should be excluded: a talent was, at that time, a sum of all respect and corresponded to the salary of about twenty years of work by a worker.

             Let’s immediately clarify the meaning of the talents. The idea has made its way which is difficult to eradicate that the talents indicate the qualities that every person has received from God. These are qualities that should not be hidden, but developed and put into operation. This interpretation does not agree with what is said in verse 15 where the talents are delivered “to each according to his abilities.” Talents and qualities of the individual, therefore, are not the same thing.

            We come to the characters. They are introduced in the first part of the parable (vv. 14-15). The protagonist is a rich oriental person who has to leave for a long journey. He entrusts his possessions to the most trusted servants. He knows their abilities, attitudes, competences, and according to these, he establishes how much to assign to each. This gentleman is clearly Christ who, before leaving the world, handed over all his goods to his disciples. 

            The master gives no indication on how to manage the talents, giving a sign of full confidence in the intelligence, insight, prudence of his servants and respect for their freedom. 

We define what these goods are. This is what Jesus has given to his Church: the Gospel, the message of salvation intended to transform the world and create a new humanity; his Spirit “who renews the face of the earth” (Ps 104:30), even himself in the sacraments; and then his power to heal, to comfort, to forgive, and to reconcile with God.

            The three servants are members of the Christian community. To each of them is given an assignment to do so that the wealth of the Lord may be put to good use. According to one’s own charism (1 Cor 12:28-30), everyone is called to produce love. Love is, in fact, the gain, the fruit that the Lord wants. 

            The second part of the parable (vv. 16-18) describes the different behavior of the servants, two are enterprising, dynamic, hardworking, while the third is fearful and insecure.

The time that all three have at their disposal is when the master is away: from Easter until the coming of Christ at the end of the world’s history. It is the time in which the Church organizes her life, grows, develops, and engages in favor of people awaiting the return of the Lord. 

            Matthew wants to encourage his community to a test. He invited them to ask themselves first if they are aware of the treasure they have in hand, to check if all the “talents” are used for the best or if any gift is hidden underground, if there are neglected aspects of the ecclesial life or if any ministry languishes. 

            In the third part of the parable (vv. 19-30), we witness the rendering of account. The scene was initially quiet and serene, then it becomes dark and—as so often happens in the Gospel of Matthew—it culminates in a dramatic way. Let’s see it. 

            The first two servants present themselves. With justifiable pride, they say to the master of having doubled their possessions. In the parallel passage of Luke’s Gospel, the two servants seem to want to recognize that a very surprising result must be attributed to the goodness of the capital more than their own efforts. “Sir, your pound of silver—they say—has earned more …” (Lk 19:16-18). In Matthew, however, the ability and the personal merit are highlighted: “I have gained …” said each of the two servants (vv. 20-22). The reward they receive is “the joy of their Lord,” the happiness that comes from being in tune with God and his plan. 

            Then the third servant who, despite not being the main actor, appears to be the principal character of the parable. “I know—he says to his master—that you are a hard man. You reap what you have not sown and gather what you have not scattered. I was afraid, so I hid your money in the ground. Here, take what is yours.”

            The image this servant has of the master, while terrifying, is not corrected, but in fact affirmed. Matthew uses it to indicate how much the good of the person is in Christ’s heart, how much he presses that the Kingdom of God be established in the world. The “wrath of God” is a biblical expression which emphasizes his irrepressible love. 

            The central message of the parable is in the master’s rebuke of the slothful servant: the only unacceptable attitude is the disengagement; it is the fear of risk. Even to the first two, perhaps not all the economic transactions went well. However, he is condemned because he let himself be blocked by fear. 

            There were neglectful and diligent disciples in Matthew’s time, and they continue to be in our communities. There are dynamic and enterprising Christians who are committed to give a new face to the catechesis, liturgy and pastoral work, who are passionately committed to the study of God’s word in order to grasp its true and deep meaning, who are generous and active and that, sometimes for an excess of zeal, they make mistakes and do not always guess the choices to make. Other Christians are rather lazy and afraid of everything. They limit themselves to repeating monotonously and tediously the same gestures, the same phrases. They do not study and are annoyed if someone proposes new interpretations. They do not even raise the question whether certain changes are desired by the Spirit. They feel safe only within what has always been said and done in the past. Any leap toward the future or every human achievement scares them. They do not resonate with the great values ​​of freedom and community life. They are afraid. 

            It is unbelievable but true. One can be paralyzed by the fear of Christ. A certain spirituality in the past urged Christians to act but especially recommended not to commit mortal sins to remain in the grace of God, being faithful to the commandments and precepts. Transgressors are threatened with terrible punishments. This spirituality created the third type of servants, that is, the Christians who, in order to avoid sins, always played it safe. They could not risk it, because those who try to commit themselves, inevitably expose themselves to the risk of being wrong. 

            Without realizing it, those who preach this fear are causing the lack of love, sterile goodness, and spiritual lethargy in the community. 

            The “talent” of God’s word, for example, bears fruit only when one grasps its true meaning, when it is translated into a language understandable to today’s person, and when it is applied to life and the concrete situations of the community; otherwise it remains a dead capital producing no change; it does not shake the conscience, nor provoke or scare anyone. 

            The punishment for making the talents of the Lord unproductive is the exclusion from his joy. It is not the condemnation to hell, but it is the fact of not belonging today to the kingdom of God. 

            What should one, who does not commit oneself, who does not dare to put to use the things of the Lord, do? He should not continue to occupy unnecessarily a position of responsibility but must give his ministry to the bank, the community, so that he may give and entrust this service to another who is willing to do it with commitment, because the community requires that all ministries are well fulfilled. 

            The conclusion of the parable: “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who are unproductive, even what they have will be taken from them” is a popular proverb that reflects an easily verifiable fact: wealth tends to accumulate and the rich becomes richer. Invoked in this parable, this saying meant to signify that, with the riches of God’s kingdom, the same thing happens: the community that is generous and attentive to the signs of the times progress and is gaining greater vitality, while those who prefer to withdraw into themselves grow old, lapse and no one will be surprised to see them disappear one day.

READ:  The parable of the talents reveals how a right attitude of the heart gets rewarded by the Lord.  Those with the soundness of soul do not need to fear the advent of the Day of the Lord and his judgment.

   PRAY:  Pray for the right attitude of the heart that makes us pleasing to the Lord.

ACT:  List out three talents God has given you.  Plan out how well you can double them at the service of God and his people.

REFLECT:  One might wonder about the justice of unequal distribution of the talent among the servants.  However, it is not what one receives that counts, but what one does with what he/she has received.  The Master’s delight and offer of reward are the same towards his servants who doubled their talents.  God looks not at the quantity of our offerings, but at their quality as well as the attitude with which we offer.

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