The Gospel of the Day – 2016.08.07
On Stewardship and Servitude
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘There is no need to be afraid, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom.
‘Sell your possessions and give alms. Get yourselves purses that do not wear out, treasure that will not fail you, in heaven where no thief can reach it and no moth destroy it. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
‘See that you are dressed for action and have your lamps lit. Be like men waiting for their master to return from the wedding feast, ready to open the door as soon as he comes and knocks. Happy those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. I tell you solemnly, he will put on an apron, sit them down at table and wait on them. It may be in the second watch he comes, or in the third, but happy those servants if he finds them ready. You may be quite sure of this, that if the householder had known at what hour the burglar would come, he would not have let anyone break through the wall of his house. You too must stand ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’
Peter said, ‘Lord, do you mean this parable for us, or for everyone?’ The Lord replied, ‘What sort of steward, then, is faithful and wise enough for the master to place him over his household to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? Happy that servant if his master’s arrival finds him at this employment. I tell you truly, he will place him over everything he owns. But as for the servant who says to himself, “My master is taking his time coming,” and sets about beating the menservants and the maids, and eating and drinking and getting drunk, his master will come on a day he does not expect and at an hour he does not know. The master will cut him off and send him to the same fate as the unfaithful.
The servant who knows what his master wants, but has not even started to carry out those wishes, will receive very many strokes of the lash. The one who did not know, but deserves to be beaten for what he has done, will receive fewer strokes. 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.’
Hope is the Gospel, Reject Fear
Because the Gospels were written by men, or communities of people; long after the time of Jesus, we are often confronted with passages that appear to vacillate between the hope, and the joy, and the optimism of Jesus, and the demands of those who were seeking to enshrine his teachings in institutions.
Every day, and especially on every Sunday the Gospel must be read carefully, and from time to time we have to peel away those segments that speak to us from the fears and the doubts, the conservativism and protectionist teachings of those who came after him in the second and third generations after his passing.
The opening of this passages represents the heart of Jesus in clear and untrammeled terms; there is no need to be afraid, Jesus says.
There is no need to be afraid says the shepherd to his little flock. There is no need to be afraid.
The parable that follows, must be read in the context of these hopeful words.
The parable speaks to the roles of a householder and his servants. The parable does not address whether the servants were members of his family, hired hands or slaves, because that is immaterial, it speaks to the issue of preparedness, of role fulfillment, and cooperation.
In this parable we are presented with the walled house of the householder, this is a metaphor for the believing community. We are presented with the householder himself, who is alternately an image of Jesus himself (the Son of Man who has promised to return), and in the place of Jesus the householder represents the head of the believing community. And we are presented with the servants of the household, which is a metaphor for the entire community of believers. Remember this, the metaphorical figure of the householder represents head of the believing community, but this one figure is only chief among servants when considered in the light of Jesus, the Son of Man.
The theme of this parable, as Jesus gives it, is about preparedness, and preparedness is about expectation, expectation is about hope, and hope is the core of the Gospel.
We are called to be happy in our work, to go to it joyfully, to faithfully execute the responsibilities we are given (the responsibilities we have sought), to anticipate the needs of those in our care.
The narrative changes in response to Peter’s questioning. I suggest that this represents a departure from the teaching of Jesus, and that this departure takes place long after the time of Jesus. It is a reflection of the teachings of the church in the following generations. The teaching becomes harsh. The love, the mercy, the forgiving heart of Christ are absent, in their place are judgements, beatings, lashings, and the alienation of others.
Jesus taught us to come together as one. He taught in the spirit of compassion, he forgave those who persecuted him, the disciples who abandoned him, even as he was being crucified.
Remember this…love one another.
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time