HOMILY FOR THE NINETEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C (AUGUST 7)
Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and pastor of St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
These are the three most difficult readings we have had in many weeks, and making sense of them might prove to be a real challenge.
One of the criticisms I heard about the horrendous killings in the Orlando nightclub weeks ago when the powers that be set out to discover just how it happened and why, was that the federal officials, the FBI, knew about the killer, Mateen, and had him on a list, and also were also informed by the owner of the place where he bought the assault rifles that something dangerous might be going on. The criticism was that the authorities knew and did nothing about it.
Even his wife apparently knew but did nothing about it.
Our Scripture today is all about knowing and doing something about it, or not doing something about it.
The reading from Wisdom is greatly out of context and as such might make little sense to people on a first reading or hearing. But the background is this. God told the Hebrews who were slaves in Egypt that he was going to do something to cause the Egyptians to let them go. The writer says that the “deliverance from Egypt was made known beforehand to our ancestors.” And why did God let them know? Wisdom says because God wanted them to rejoice in their expectation of what God would do, the sure knowledge that he would keep his word and they would be delivered. They had to act on that knowledge, however, God issued orders of how they were to prepare a final meal, how their houses would be protected, and so on. Those who listened to God were spared the Egyptian fate and were released from their bondage. The then is a story of foreknowledge that was acted on, and the Hebrews were successful.
While the Hebrews listened and had faith in their God, that God would be true to his word, St. Paul today also takes about faith in God. He first gives a definition of faith: it is the assurance, the confidence, we have that something we wish for would happen, even though we do not have concrete knowledge. Paul uses Abraham and his wife Sarah as great examples of people who had faith because they were told that something would happen, and without any proof of it, lived their lives expecting it to happen. They too took action on that foreknowledge. God told Abraham that he would father many nations, but he was a nomad, unsettled. He set out, not knowing where he was going, but had faith that God would get him there. Similarly, Sarah was old and barren, yet God said there would be many children in his line. Sarah also had faith in the pre-knowledge God gave them, and eventually had a child. My point is again that God lets us know what will happen, and some of us have the faith to live out our lives knowing that it will. We take action accordingly.
In the shorter Gospel account today we also hear Jesus giving us foreknowledge of events. He tells us that God is preparing the kingdom of heaven for us and that secondly, the Son of Man will be coming in judgment. As Catholics, we have faith that this is the case and we are asked to act on that faith. Unlike the people in Orlando who may have had pre-knowledge but chose not to act on it, we do not want to be in that position.
Jesus, the consummate storyteller, speaks a parable to explain this. But before he does, he also gives concrete ideas on what should be done because of this pre- knowledge – sell your possessions, give to the poor and needy even if that means self-sacrifice.
The first parable then is of a master of a house coming home from a wedding feast. The pre-knowledge is that they know he is coming. What the servants don’t know is when. When he returns he finds that the servants have stayed awake and kept watch and the Master is so pleased with them that he does what? He sits them down and serves them dinner himself. The master becomes a servant to the servants as a reward.
The second parable is not as positive. The pre- knowledge was that there were thieves in the area that came at night. Knowing this, the servants and master should have taken steps to protect the house and everyone should have taken their duties very carefully. The fact that they didn’t caused a robbery. In this case, the foreknowledge was not acted upon with bad results.
How does all of this apply to us today and this week? We have foreknowledge of a number of things that we as Catholics take on faith – that the soul lives on, that there is a kingdom of God, that a good life will be rewarded, that we must do things to prepare for our deaths – like almsgiving and love of neighbor. The question we must ask ourselves is if our faith that Christ is telling the truth leads us to act on what we know. It is easy to just sit back and say I’ll see what happens, but even though we know we are going to die, we don’t know when. Even though we know Christ will come again, we don’t know when. Will we be ready or will we be sitting and waiting or even sleeping? The parables and the readings today are a wake up call, that these things are going to happen, let’s take action to prepare for it!
And this is the Good News that Jesus reminds us of today for those who live by and through their faith in God’s word.