19th Sunday Year C – Lectio divina on Lk 12,32-48
Turning to his disciples, Jesus continues the exhortation he had already begun while speaking to the people. When a stranger came to ask his help because his brother would not give him the share of the inheritance that was due to him, Jesus refused to mediate in the dispute. However, he took advantage of the occasion to warn people about the danger of allowing themselves to be possessed by the things they possess, or of not being able to live because they do not have all the things they would like to have. The position taken by Jesus seemed so demanding that he felt the need to continue his teaching on this point. In an effort to explain better, he limited his audience, but he did not water down the severity of the warning nor the level of his demands. The Jesus that we meet in today’s gospel passage may seem very radical and not very practical. We should not forget, however, that his words were intended for those who follow him. Let those who are not deaf become his disciples.
At that time, Jesus said to his disciples, 32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. 35 “Let your loins be girded and your lamps burning, 36 and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the marriage feast, so that they may open to him at once when he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes; truly, I say to you, he will gird himself and have them sit at table, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those servants! 39 But know this, that if the householder had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. 40 You also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an unexpected hour.” 41 Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” 42 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? 43 Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing. 44 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 45 But if that servant says to himself, `My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, 46 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him, and put him with the unfaithful. 47 And that servant who knew his master’s will, but did not make ready or act according to his will, shall receive a severe beating. 48 But he who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, shall receive a light beating. Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more.
I Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
This talk, which was addressed only to the disciples, does not have a unified theme. It is made up of two subjects that are a bit different. It begins by completing the teaching of Jesus on the attitude of complete trust in God that should characterize his disciples in this world and, in practice, their relationship with the earthly goods. It then goes on directly to exhort them to live in a state of permanent vigilance and warns them against the desire of goods that do not last. He then encourages them to live as people waiting for the Lord who is to come. This makes it clear that the lack of interest in earthly goods is not simply disaffection or even contempt, but a test of hope and the will to serve the Lord who is to come.
In the first part of his talk, Jesus encourages his disciples only to live freed from the tyranny of possessions. He uses a double argument: the disciples need not fear losing their possessions, because God gives us more than we can desire. The promised kingdom makes everything else insignificant. He finishes with a basic criterion: what really matters is what fills our hearts – either the kingdom or earthly goods. The second argument is in the form of parables (there are three parables contained in this text). He gives the reason for our waiting for the Lord. If the Lord comes in the middle of the night and finds the servants waiting and ready to welcome him, he will immediately set about serving them. Jesus states this with surprisingly clear logic in the first parable. In the second parable he says that we need to look forward to his coming always because he comes when least expected – just like a thief!
The second part of his talk is in response to a question from Peter. Jesus explains the meaning of the parable by telling another parable! Note that this time he does not speak of servants in general, but of just one servant, the steward who was in charge of the others. Responsibility before the Lord does not fall on the whole team of servants but only on their leader. The fidelity and wisdom of a good steward consists in being constant in his work, and always ready to render an account of his administration. And it is not a good idea to count on the master being late! That tactic could lead to his downfall.
II. Meditation: apply what the text says to life.
The disciples of Jesus, no matter how unimportant they might be, or might be considered by others, have nothing to be afraid of in the world. Their future is with God and is in God’s hands. That is the promise that Jesus gives. Knowing it frees the disciples from worrying about accumulating goods that do not last and so have no future, and makes them free to belong totally to the Lord who is their only good. Waiting for him enables them to live without earthly goods or without worrying about accumulating them. Jesus wants us to be free of material things and free of worry, because the Father has decided to give us the best possible gift, namely his kingdom. Before asking us to renounce other things, God has given us his own patrimony, and he has done so “with pleasure”, rejoicing in his generosity, in order to increase our generosity. The only goods that are worth having are those that are not seen, and that cannot be taken from us. Only God can satisfy our hearts. He is our only treasure, and it is worth losing everything else for him.
Our waiting is without end, not because the Lord will not come, but because we do not know when he will come. We must be patient in keeping vigil. It will last until the Lord comes. When he returns, the Lord who is to come will reward, not the servant who possesses most, but the one who has been most attentive in waiting. The way to serve the Lord in his absence is by being alert in keeping vigil, and to remain alert it is absolutely necessary to remain free from the things we possess. Poverty of resources greatly increases our waiting for the Lord, and when he comes, he will set about serving those who have not grown tired of waiting. What makes us worthy of the Lord’s coming is not what we have but what we expect. The only good that we cannot lose, and the only one we need to protect in this life, is the one that has not yet come, the Lord we are waiting for. Jesus assures us that our waiting for him will transform the Lord into our attentive servant. Having God as our servant is the reward for those servants who wait in hope, who put up with their needs and the time of the Lord’s absence without losing hope of one day meeting their generous Lord.
Jesus does not tell us when he plans to come. He will come like a thief. We will not be able to foresee his coming nor prevent it. Our time of service lasts until he comes. The servant is a true servant only if he waits for his master’s coming. Waiting for Christ is our way of serving him!
Peter was the one chosen from among them all to be leader of the Lord’s servants. Of him the Lord expects fidelity and solicitude for the others. The Master will entrust his possessions to the good steward that he finds caring for others and giving them their food at the proper time. The Lord does not keep his gifts for himself, and the steward is faithful when he shares with others. All that we have, we have in trust, as stewards whose job it is to serve those who have nothing. Fidelity to the Lord, while he is still absent, is not measured by the quantity of goods we have in hand, but in putting everything we have at the disposal of those who have less.
We should not think of ourselves as masters of the things we own, simply because we own them, while the Lord has not yet come. Even if he is not yet with us, he has left us his will and the task he has for us. Respecting his will is the only proper way to honour the Lord who is to come. His will represents himself. The servant who knows what his Master wants and does not do it will be punished. He is not an absent Lord. He is a demanding Lord, to be feared by those who do not obey him.
The last statement of Jesus is in the form of a proverb. The first half of it is understandable enough – “to whom much is given, of him much will be required”. The second part seems harder to understand – “of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more.” The most precious of all the gifts we have received is the trust the Lord has shown in us by giving us his gifts. In fact, the gifts we receive are nothing more than the proof of the trust God has in us. We respond to gifts according to what we have received. The trust that God asks of us is greater than what we have already received. The trust the Lord has in us should increase our trust in him.