Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Much Will Be Required Of One Who Has Been Entrusted With Much

Today’s First Reading is taken from Paul’s Letter to the Romans (6:12-18).

Paul is teaching the newly converted Christians in Rome how they must behave in their new life. Their attitude toward sin much change. “Sin must not reign over your mortal bodies so that you obey their desires.” Every part of our bodies can be subject to sinfulness. With our eyes, we can look at things we shouldn’t. With our ears, we can listen to gossip, to slander, to “dirty stories”. Our mouth can say things that are hurtful to others. Our feet can take us to places we would better avoid. God’s children should use our bodies to serve God. We should do what God wants. We should go where God sends us. The Law, summarized in the Ten Commandments, tells us what we need to do in order to obey God. But it is God’s gift of grace that provides us with both the desire and the power to do God’s will, and to make God’s will our own.

Many of the Christians in Rome at the time Paul wrote this letter were servants in the households of rich, pagan Romans. Slaves are bound to do what the master orders, or they will be punished. These converts to the Way of Jesus knew well what Paul is speaking of when he speaks of the slavery of sin. Someone who commits sin eventually becomes a slave to sin, and the consequence of sin will be spiritual death. Those who have been baptized have become children of God (so are the pagans, children of God, but that is a discussion for another time).

Paul has a message to the converts who had been slaves, and his message is rather surprising to those converts who were freemen, and especially to those who were members of the Roman upper class. “You are slaves of the one you obey, whether of sin, that leads to death, or to obedience, that leads to righteousness.” Paul does not say, as some have interpreted his meaning, that we must be slaves to God. Rather, the Christian must become accustomed to doing God's will (obeying the commandments) as a slave is accustomed to doing the will of their master. The master does not need to tell the faithful servant what to do hour by hour, or even day by day. The servant fulfils the master’s wishes because they are ingrained in his own consciousness. In the same way, God’s will should become ingrained in the conscience of his children, as we become willing slaves of righteousness.

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Today’s gospel is taken from Luke (12:39-48).

Jesus says to his disciples: “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.” No one knows the day and the hour when Jesus will return in glory. His coming will be unannounced and unexpected. Just as the owner of a house must be alert to prevent a thief from breaking and entering, the disciples of Jesus must be ready to meet him when he comes again in glory.

Peter has questions about what Jesus means: “Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?” He understands that the pagans will not know when Jesus is coming. But, does this mean that even the disciples will not be alerted, and might be taken unawares?

Jesus replies to Peter with another parable, this one is about a steward, the head of the household staff. Among his duties is to make sure that everyone in the household, both the family and the staff, are fed at the proper time. This is an important duty at all times, and Jesus’ question involves a special circumstance: What will happen if the lord of the manor goes away to do business in another city? How will the steward’s manage?

The obvious answer is this:  the steward performs his duties properly. When the master returns, that steward will be rewarded, and given even greater responsibility. But what if the master is away longer than first expected?

Here, Jesus mentions three possibilities. The steward who takes advantage of the master’s absence to mistreat the other members of the household staff, to beat the menservants and the maidservants, to eat and drink to excess and get drunk, will be punished severely, dismissed from service, and treated like a pagan. Jesus also speaks of two ordinary servants: the first one knew the duties that the master had assigned, and did not do what he was supposed to; the other one did not know what he was supposed to do, and did not perform them. The one who knew his responsibilities and ignored them will be beaten severely; the one who did not know what do deserves to be beaten even more severely, but he will be punished only lightly.

The moral of the story: Much will be required of someone who is entrusted with much. But even more will be required of someone who is entrusted with more.

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