October 10, 2021 Mary, Mother of Light Maronite Church in Tequesta, FL
1 Thessalonians 5,1-11 + Matthew 24, 45-51
Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that wicked slave says to himself, “My master is delayed”, and he begins to beat his fellow-slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know. He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The Gospel of Saint Matthew is arranged as series of sermons. There are five of them. You know the first one. It was delivered on a mountain side and we call it the Beatitudes. This final one nearing the end of the Gospel concerns the coming of a new age, and our readiness for it. Historically, Jesus is speaking to the leaders of the Jewish community. When Matthew writes, Jesus is speaking to the leaders of the early Christian communities that have grown lax and become disinterested in the new age to come. In this 21st century, and in this church, Jesus speaks to us. To me he speaks about my leadership in the Divine Liturgy and my preaching. To Elias, he speaks about his local leadership and service here, and to any parents because they too are leaders in their household. To young people he speaks about your leadership, example, and service in school.
In this day and age, there is little thought given to the return of Jesus of Christ as things are going to be called to account for our behavior with what we have been given and for how we have treated one another. We don’t like the image of judge who punishes where there has been abuse or neglect, but that does not change one bit of this Gospel. When we hear these words of Matthew’s Gospel, we could be surprised at how prominent in the mind of Matthew is the coming of the Lord at the end of time. This is certainly not something at the forefront of our thoughts. When it is at the forefront in our day among Christians, it’s usually with some group intent on setting the day and the hour of that coming. All of this is in flat indifference to what we hear from Jesus: “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.
For people my age, the death of friends and classmates is an all too frequent reminder that it may not be too long for me. For younger people, the sudden death by accident of people who seem too young to die can shake those who survive and make them feel their fragility. But that passes sooner or later, and we slip back into that attitude and behavior that reveals our denial that life is short, fragile, and it ends.
Years ago, my father was having a hard time with shortness of breath. His doctor, like a good physician, told him the truth about his smoking habit and the fact that it was going to kill him and his death would be slow and painful. It scared him enough that he stopped smoking that day to everyone relief in our family. Sometimes, the Gospel is like that doctor telling the truth and expressing the consequences of behavior that assumes we’re just going to go on merrily forever. This Gospel is proclaimed in our Maronite Churches today as a wake-up, a reminder and a warning. The challenge of all this is to keep alive a joyful hope not that the Lord will not notice or remember what we’ve done or failed to do, but that we have lived with wisdom and faith ready to be found exactly where we belong doing what we’ve been called to do with the gifts entrusted to us. If that is the case, whenever it’s time, all will be well.