We often overlook the truth that God places certain demands upon us. He has a plan for creation and each one of us fits somehow into that plan. None of the expectations of the Lord are for his benefit, for there is nothing that he needs from us. The Lord invites us to participate in the building of the Kingdom, and to do so through acts of faith, charity and mercy. Each one of us is blessed by God with the gifts and graces we need for this journey. Some of us are invited to exercise great acts and others of us -- perhaps most of us -- to exercise ordinary acts along the way. The Lord will hold us accountable for each of those acts in our lives.
But this sense of the meaning of the parable, as is often the case, overlooks the general eschatological theme of the parable. This parable is the third of similar parables that are recounted in Matthew’s Gospel. Each of these parables suggests a master who has gone away and entrusted the care of his estate, property or money to his servants. This was not an unknown scenario in the ancient world, so the audience that hears these parables would be able to identify with the setting. In the parables that Jesus tells, there is an extensive period of time in which the master is delayed in his return. This allows for settings where they grow lax or begin to take advantage of their positions. In a clear way each parable draws a focus to the coming of the heavenly kingdom and the presumed “delay” in the Second Coming of Jesus.
In his letters to the Thessalonians, the oldest writings in the New Testament, St. Paul addresses them regarding the nature of the parousia (the return of Jesus) and its presumed delay. Assuming that this parable, and those similar to it found elsewhere in the Gospels, are authentic to Jesus, then the concerns of the Thessalonians and other Christians at the time -- including Paul himself -- were envisioned by Jesus as well.
Due to the current conflagration between Israel and the Palestinians there is a resurgence of eschatological furor (again) among those apocalyptic Christians -- Protestant and Catholic -- who see signs that this is now the end and are gearing up for the end of history and the Second Coming of Christ.
However, talking about the end of history and the Second coming of Christ is not the same as actually being prepared. Jesus instructs his disciples in this parable, and in many others, that the danger is in laxity and taking for granted that the end is not imminent. The end is always imminent, it just hasn’t happened yet, while at the same time it is always happening.
Jesus tells us to be alert, to invest wisely in our preparations for the end, to pay attention to what is going on around us.
Whether or not the end is happening, today, tomorrow, or in a 1,000 years is essentially irrelevant to the fact that people will die today, tomorrow, and in a 1,000 years from now.
The problem always in the apocalyptic movements is that when the end doesn’t happen when and as expected they become disenfranchised, drift away, and return to their old selves. Naturally there are always the explanations as to why they were right, but that God extended the delay to give us more time to get ready. Then, when there is some reason to think about it again, the furor comes back when something else has happened.
Jesus calls us to be fully invested in the life of discipleship, to be “all-in”. We are to take the graces and gifts we have received from him and use them well. Do not allow the delay in the Second Coming, or rumors that this is the end of times, excite, confuse, or bother you. This is our time, we are called to be disciples now, to be invested now. We do not bury our discipleship and bring it out when we think we will need and this and wait until then.
Next weekend we observe the Solemnity of Christ, the King of the Universe -- a reality of our lives each and every day.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.