21st Thursday in Ordinary Time
1st Cor 1:1-9
There’s a young man named Steve who lives in Geneseo. He’s married to the niece of Kathe Hartnett. A couple weeks ago his older brother dropped dead with a heart attack. He was only 43. He was hiking in the Adirondacks, coming down the mountain with his wife, when he collapsed. It was all so totally unexpected, and yet so final.
We just heard in our gospel reading: “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. . . . You . . . must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
“Watchfulness” or “vigilance” has always been an important component of monastic life. We will be discussing this theme in our small groups this afternoon. As we heard in the chapter from Fr. Charles Cummings’ book, “In the hesychast tradition this attitude of inner wakefulness is called nepsis.”
In our gospel today Jesus used the example of the master of a house staying awake so a thief wouldn’t break into his house. There is an element of fear or anxiety involved in that image. And also the end of our gospel reading: “The servant’s master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish him severely and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” Although “the fear of God” certainly has its place in motivation for vigilance, I would like to put more emphasis on being vigilant for “the love of God.”
Plugging this into the example of the 43-year-old man who died hiking, rather than a reaction of fear in appearing before an exacting Judge, it would be more ideal to have a reaction like, “Oh God, I am so sorry to disappoint you and let you down. I wasn’t prepared; I wasn’t expecting it so soon. You deserve so much more.”
Rather than the image of waiting up for a thief, think of a wife waiting up for her husband who’s shift gets out late, or a parent waiting up for a teenage child. These are gestures of love. The person doesn’t count the cost; it is a labor of love and not burdensome. The Song of Songs captures this attitude of loving wakefulness: “I was sleeping, but my heart kept vigil; I heard my lover knocking: ‘Open to me, my sister, my beloved, my dove, my perfect one!’ ” (Sg 5:2).
So it is better if our attitude of vigilance is free of anxiety. Think of a judo player in the ring. He is totally attentive but also relaxed. He is ready and poised for whatever might happen next. Also, a baseball player at bat. He is somewhat like a coiled spring, ready to pop into action. If he is nervous, it is more a nervousness of expectation than fear. He’s excited about the opportunity to get a good hit.
We, too, in our hours of watching in the early morning, and throughout the day with our monastic attitude of vigilance, are attentive to whatever God may send our way. We don’t want to miss any opportunities to show God our love and further his kingdom. If he has a task for us and gives us a nudge, we want to be wide awake and coiled so we can knock it out of the ballpark. We don’t want to disappoint our Lover. Watchfulness is not about what we will get out of it. It is about what God will get out of it. He is so worth it.