Scripture Readings: Book of Wisdom 18:6-9; Letter to the Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19, Gospel According to Saint Luke 12:32-48
Some parts of Sacred Scripture, the Old and New Testaments, are more interesting, engaging and memorable than others. I have to confess that this Sunday’s selections are not immediately appealing to me, but believing they contain a message nonetheless, and an important one, I am committed to trying to find that message.
The first reading, from the Book of Wisdom, written only about one hundred years before the birth of Christ, left me wondering on first reading the other day (though no doubt I have heard it many times over the course of the years), “What’s this all about?” Are you surprised a monk and priest might think this way? Please don’t be. I am only human and sometimes as confused as the next person about the deeper meaning of our sacred texts, which make up the Bible.
In any case, this Sunday’s passage from the Book of Wisdom, I’ve come to learn, actually presents a developed Old Testament theology of religious living. Today’s reading is a description of the night of the original Passover meal, when God’s people were moving from slavery in Egypt toward freedom in the Promised Land.
The reading for this Sunday is in fact a praise of the religious spirit of the Israelites, on the night when their history changed forever and they “went forth” from Egypt into a more hopeful future under God’s watchful care. The author of the Book of Wisdom is looking back to centuries earlier when the first Passover took place. The sacred writer uses the reference to the first Passover as an opportunity to point out with confidence that the pursuit of true wisdom, the source of all good, is obtained especially through upright living and fervent prayer. He fully trusts his hearers will grasp and heed this message.
God had promised to the ancestors that He would free the people from the bondage of Egypt. The people put their trust in these promises and saw God’s wonders (Book of Wisdom, chapter 18, verses 6 -7). Egyptians had slain the male children of God’s people and the crime was punished by the death of the first-born of Egypt. This intervention by God identified Israel as God’ people (verse 8).The Passover meal was thereby established as a sacred bond among the Israelites for sharing their joys and sorrows in common (verse 9), always under God’s loving care.
This notion links us to the Gospel text for this Sunday, which is about living without fear and always trusting in God who is capable of making his “little flock,” the poor in spirit, sharers in the Kingdom or Reign of God. “The poor” are not so much those who have little or nothing in the realm of material things, but those who know their need for God and who follow the Lord’s instructions about trusting in God.
If we place our hope in God, placing our hearts where our treasure is to be found, that is, simply in God, then our treasure is secure (free from “thieves and moths”) and well invested, since nothing can be lost (“like purses that do not wear out”). The phrases in quotes about thieves, moths and purses are simply images of security to be found in adhering to God.
Another way to express the truth is this: love entrusts what it has (even if it’s nothing in the material realm) into God’s faithful and loving hands. This Christian attitude toward life is not based on human wisdom, but flows from a love of Christ. That is spiritual wisdom at its purest and simplest.
The follower of Jesus, called a “servant” in the Gospel text this Sunday, must always be ready for whenever the Master returns, either when we are young, middle aged or elderly. We live in the period between the two comings of Christ. How should we act during this time? If the believer is found awake when the Master returns, the Master will seat that one at the heavenly banquet and even wait on the believer. This may seem preposterous, but it is what Christ teaches. Lamps are to be burning for the Master’s return, without fear and trembling, but in love and joy!
All of us who follow Jesus are challenged to be faithful to the task entrusted to us, the responsibility of service to the community of believers to which we belong. Fidelity is being asked of us, who are urged to be always watchful, for we know not the day nor the hour of God’s return. Again, not a cause for fright or fleeing, but a call to living mindfully, not haphazardly or blindly, in the presence of God.
The faith and trust that often characterized the ancestors in the faith is the basis on which we today can “give up all” to have God at the center of our life. Therein we find the strength and inspiration to wait for the coming of the Lord, each and every day, but also at the end our life. It is by watchfulness (the word in Greek is nepsis), a readiness and sense of responsibility because of the promises of old, that we should desire to live and share in order to obtain the peace and riches that the world cannot give.
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB