Wednesday, 9 November 2011

33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year A

Proverbs 31:10-13. 19-20. 30-31; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6; Matthew 25:14-30

To open the pages of a bible is to find oneself transported into a world, our world, created by God and ruled by God. This world, our world, is populated by an endless variety of characters: angels and demons; men and women and children, the good and the bad, foolish people and wise people, noble and despicable.

Many have names we easily recognise: Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Saul and David, Jesus and Peter, James and John. But there are also lesser known figures like Hagar the Egyptian slave girl and her son Ishmael, Abimelech and Ephron, Rahab and Gideon. And then, of course, there are the fictional characters like, for example, those who appear in the parables of Jesus: the three servants of today’s gospel or the ten bridesmaids of last week.

The reason I mention all these people and the scriptural landscape they populate is that each one of them is presented to us not primarily for their human achievements but in terms of their relationship to God. It is as though we are privileged to see them as God sees them; through his eyes.

There are no, or at least few, blurry characters in the Bible, about whom we are left to wonder – they are clearly either for God or against him, good or bad. Some, like Judas, begin well but end badly while others, like Mary of Magdala, start off badly but become good.

Indeed, this seeing of the biblical persons through God’s eyes is an enormous help to us. It is as though we had first row seats in the school of wisdom and understanding. As God himself said to Samuel (1Sam 16:7): God does not see as man sees; man looks at appearances but God looks at the heart.

For us there is a triple effect in all this. We get to see the heart of the biblical characters ‘from the inside’ as it were; we get to see our own hearts in the same light; and most importantly, we get to know God.

When God says through Samuel (1Sam 13:14) that King David is a man after his own heart, it is the heart of God that is unveiled to us.

When Jesus tells , as he does in today’s parable, that a man is a ‘good-for-nothing servant’ who is not fit for the kingdom, he is revealing to us the workings of his own heart and showing us what he will look for in us. In other words, he provokes in us a kind of mini-judgment which we pass on ourselves. It is as though, if only for a moment, we see ourselves alongside those servants, under the scrutinising eyes of God.

If we confine ourselves, then, just to the gospel readings of the last three Sundays of the liturgical cycle we see they have at least four striking elements in common: a judge, a judgment, a reward and a punishment.

What we are dealing with here is what we traditionally call The Last Things – death, judgment, heaven, hell – or more precisely, the moment of our death, our judgment and our sentence. If we wish to make this really personal we might point to ourselves and say: my death – my judgment – my eternal sentence.

In a very real way it is possible to say that the whole of the Sacred Scripture is presented as a huge stage, with the spotlight of God’s judgment shining on the multitude of characters who act out the drama of sacred history.

Last Sunday the wise bridesmaids entered the wedding hall because they were ready while the foolish bridesmaids found themselves excluded. This Sunday two servants are rewarded for their faithful service while the third one is cast out. Next week the sheep will enter the kingdom of joy while the goats will go away to eternal punishment.

To read these parables attentively we cannot help but ask ourselves the question why. Why were these people rewarded or punished? What was it they did, or did not do, which caused them to be pleasing or displeasing to God?

To answer honestly is always to implicate ourselves; the parables are a mirror.

Do I take the demands of the Kingdom seriously enough? Do I ensure my flask of oil is always full? What is the flask of oil? What does it represent? What is the lamp?

Today we ask: What am I doing with the gifts God has given me? Have I put them in a hole in the ground? Am I a useful servant or an unprofitable one?

Am I preparing for the Master’s return and the moment of accounting?

Next week we the gospel draws us to see ourselves either as sheep or goats. We cannot seriously and honestly meditate on this parable without taking our place with one side or the other, remembering, of course, that it will be the Son of Man seated on his throne of glory, who will make the final judgment. Are we ready? Do we feed the hungry and clothe the naked and visit the lonely?

One unalterable fact remains for every person created by God, the question will be asked one day; a judgment will be made one day. Better for us to prepare today for what we will not be able to change tomorrow.

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