“You too must stand ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not know.”
A certain holy man was having a meal with two of his friends. They had not seen for a very long time, so it was a good time to catch up on a number of issues and reconnect. They were all Mass servers in the same parish as young boys. As they chatted along, one of them chirped in what used to be the familiar question of their old Irish priest: “What would you do, if we have thirty minutes before we die?” So they decided to deal with it on the occasion as adults. The first friend said: “I would quickly dash off to the priest for general confession and then I’d be ready.” The holy friend asked him, “What if the priest is out and wouldn’t be back till the next day?” “Hmmm!”, he muttered. The second friend said: “I would try to let go of the grudges in my heart against someone who hurt me really bad.” Then the two of them simultaneously asked their friend: “And you, what would you do?” He looked at them lovingly and with smile said: “I would go on eating and waiting right here. I mean, I am ready. Anytime!” This story echoes the message of the Scriptural Readings on this 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, C. The themes of preparation, waiting in readiness, hope and salvation are interwoven throughout the readings to present us with a beautiful tapestry of the need to “be prepared at all times” like the holy man in the short story we just read.
The First Reading (Wisdom 18: 6-9) recalls the first Passover meal of the Jewish people, eaten in haste, with lamb and unleavened bread trusting in God to save them from the hands of their slave masters in Egypt. They ate in readiness to embark on a journey to the land promised by God to their father, Abraham. This was the blessing they were privileged to receive because Abraham, their father, and our father in faith, believed that God Who made the promise to him would not fail. The Second reading (Hebrews (11: 1-2, 18-22) traces the line of that faith from Abraham, who left his home in Mesopotamia at God’s bidding to an unknown but promised land; how he trusted that God would give them a son even when they were well on in years; to Sarah, who had no other reasons to believe that she could bear a son at eighty except that God had made the promise. It is faith that inspires and sustains hope, for faith is the “realization of things hoped for” (Hebrew 11: 1). As Christians we are called to be men and women of great faith in imitation of our father, Abraham. But our faith is even more founded and made possible because of Him, Who died for us and rose again, and has gone to prepare a place for us, and with the promise to take us, so that we may be where He is (John 14: 3).
It is this “heavenly homeland”, which we all long for that Jesus is calling us in the Gospel to stand ready and be prepared for. Using the Old testament images that recalls the mode of the Passover Meal, Jesus addresses His disciples, and therefore, all of us today, to “Gird your loins and light your lamps.” This expresses the constant readiness that the Lord expects of us all. Expounding further Jesus uses the image of the servant waiting for the master’s return from a wedding feast “ready to open the door as soon as he comes and knocks.” This image was a familiar one: in the Palestinian community of the time of Jesus, the climax of a wedding was the arrival of the bridegroom, who would always come anytime from midnight, and then the ceremony hypes from then. Jesus also alludes to this in the Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 25: 1-13). So the master would always return late, if not very late – “It may be in the second watch he comes, or the third …” The servants who stand ready at the master’s return are blessed. Stressing the same theme of readiness, Jesus applies the image of the householder, who would not have let the burglar break through the wall of his house if he had known what hour they were to come. He sums up this picturesque presentation with the main gist of the entire teaching: “You too must stand ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not know.” This refers to the two-fold preparation: for the Second Coming of the Son of Man – Jesus Christ Himself; and for the time when the individual is called out of this life to meet with his Creator. About these two, no one knows the day and the hour. Therefore, the need to be prepared at all times.
So how should we prepare? We could glean our answers from Jesus’ answer to Peter’s question: “Lord, did You tell this parable only for us, or for everyone?” Jesus answered with more parables that reflect the different attitudes or modes of preparation.
- The Wise and Faithful Servant: This servant is sincere, committed and actively at his service. He is set at obeying the master’s bidding by getting his job done and properly so. He is obedient, faithful and unassuming. He gets the blessings of his master, who blesses him with more responsibilities. We think of Joseph in the palace of Pharaoh in Egypt (Genesis 39: 4-5; 41: 33, 41). Our aim should always be to get our job done in the sight of God: Jesus said: “I have glorified You on earth and finished the work that You gave me to do” (John 17: 4). St. Paul ended by writing to Timothy: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4: 7).
- The Unfaithful and Unwise Servant: He is impatient, and thinks that his master is long in returning. He resorts to a life of debauchery and unruliness. He thinks he has enough time to play with, and to put things back in place before his master would come back. He forgets that he has no control of time, and cannot tell exactly when his master would return. Our worst enemy is time, when we think we have it in abundance. This servant is caught at his devious acts, punished and condemned.
Which of these servants are we? How have we maximised out time and our privileges? Those of us who have been called and chosen to serve as leaders, especially in the Church, need to pay more attention to the last words of Jesus in today’s Gospel:
When a man has had a great deal given him, a great deal will be demanded of him; when a man has had a great deal given him on trust, even more will be expected of him.
May the good Lord who called us to Himself give us the grace to respond with sincerity and commitment; and with a deep sense of humility and responsibility. And like the holy man in our story, may we always be prepared for the Day of the Lord, whenever He comes.