LITURGY IN FOCUS

THE WORD OF GOD THIS WEEK

19th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Reflection: Putting your faith into action

By SISTER MARY McGLONE

Do not be afraid. Gird your loins. Sell your goods and give generously to those in need. Don your traveling duds. Keep the porch light on and stay by the door. Secure what you treasure, knowing that its hiding place is also your heart’s home.

Today’s Gospel opens with these eight statements. Are they commandments? Suggestions? Warnings? Maybe numbers two through eight actually are a list of instructions for how to accomplish the first.

Jesus illustrates his instructions with metaphorical stories about servants and masters. He speaks of servants who can hardly wait for the householder to return; they linger at the door like kids waiting for Daddy to get home, pick them up and play with them.

But what if he doesn’t show up on time? There’s something ominous about how the second and third watches of the night remind us of the Passion and the hours of Jesus’ arrest and Peter’s denial, when fear seemed to overwhelm hope.

Who among the disciples knew at what hour they would be put to the test? What kind of servants remain ready even when it seems the master may not return at all?

Today’s first reading says that, at God’s instructions, the ancestors celebrated their Passover supper so that they would be ready to follow Moses to freedom. Sharing a solemn meal with their loins girt and their sandals on prepared them for flight.

The Letter to the Hebrews provides a theological perspective to make sense of this: “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” While that may sound like a riddle, it is actually a very pragmatic explanation of the effect of belief in God’s providence. In effect, Hebrews tells us that Abraham’s faith led him to venture into the conditions in which his hopes could become reality.

What Jesus asked of the disciples — to give away their goods, to be on the move, to be ready for what is coming rather than satisfied with what is — all of that was an invitation to put faith into action. He wanted them to act like they believed because that was the way to bring about the world they hoped to see.

This helps explain what Jesus says about what goes on behind closed doors when the master is out of town. Faithful servants act in the style of the master whether or not there is a security camera recording them. Their belief in the message continues to make the reign of God visible, even when they have nothing more than their hope that it will be fulfilled. (Unfaithful servants create a different reality, a tragic, karmic situation in which they get what they gave.)

“Do not be afraid.” That’s where Jesus started. Do not be afraid to let go of those things, places and attitudes that you have relied on for security.

As Pope Francis says, when we realize that everything is a gift, our goods and even our beliefs take on new meaning. In Fratelli Tutti, he reminds us, “Human beings are so made that they cannot live, develop and find fulfilment except ‘in the sincere gift of self to others.’ … ‘Life exists where there is … communion … and life is stronger than death when it is built on true relationships.’ ”

What if we really believed that? What if we believed that we have nothing to fear in sharing what gives us security because it is all a free gift in the first place? What if we believed, like Abraham, that the unknowable future God offers us is worth more than the present we are used to? What if we believed that loving relationships are the only treasure that will never wear out and that our greatest potential is to be in communion with all of God’s creation?

Today, we are invited into the future we long for at the deepest level of our being. We will get there only by leaving behind our fears and pessimism. Donating our riches, venturing beyond our normal surroundings, treasuring our connections with all God’s people, watching for God to show up unpredictably and in unfamiliar disguise — those are all steps that make it possible.

So, as we participate in our liturgy, instead of girt loins and sandals, let’s don our metaphorical hiking boots and let our celebration launch us into the venture of faith that transforms hopes into reality.

Reading 1

(Wisdom 18: 6-9)

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.

Responsorial psalm

(Psalm 33: 1, 12, 18-22)

Reading 2

(Hebrews 11: 1-2, 8-19)

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 that God was able to raise even from the dead,
and he received Isaac back as a symbol.

OR

(Hebrews 11: 1-2, 8-12)

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.

Gospel

(Luke 12: 32-48)

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.”

OR

(Luke 12: 35-40)

Jesus said to his disciples:
“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 the servants 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.”