The 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
When it comes to the pursuit of happiness, Jesus has a few countercultural ideas on how to go about doing it. Blessed are those servants, he says, whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. Then what? I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them. Talk about role reversal!
Actually, Jesus in today’s Gospel is talking about pursuing happiness not by agreeing with the crowd, but by being servants with an attitude, an attitude of watchfulness. There are two ideas in watchfulness: the first is keeping awake, and the second is looking out for something that is coming.
Simply keeping awake and alert in our modern society is by no means an easy thing, when everything around us tends to lull to sleep our moral sense, so that we acquiesce in anything “the science” can do, without first asking whether it is right to do what we are newly capable of doing.
Christians can also succumb to the drowsy influences around us. Our materialistic society would have us ignore all the real but unseen glories above and around us, and that might be within us, and have us live for the passing things of this present life. The author of the letter to the Hebrews reminds us that Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. Science has nothing to say about the existence of realities that at present remain unseen. Nor can the latest computers. Only faith.
People who pay attention only to this present life and to things that are seen may think of themselves as “woke”, but actually they’re half-asleep because they’re only paying attention to what will pass away and leave no trace. Be vigilant, says Jesus, be fully awake. Get some exercise in your faith, get a firm grip on God and Christ, and of all the unseen glories that are included in those two names. Otherwise, you will lose what you don’t use and fall into the sleepwalking crowd of the woke, in which so many people around us are wandering around. Faith is the real world; and outside the faith, it’s all a dream world.
So keeping awake is the first step in the pursuit of happiness. Once you’re keeping your eyes open, the second step is to focus them on something. One of the distinguishing marks of the Christian faith is that it shifts the focus of attention from the present to the future. Faith is the realization of what is hoped for. It is faith that makes whatever is to come far more important than that which is, or has been. No one is really living the Christian faith with any profundity unless the goal of their whole life is to live in the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God. To live for this future is the very definition of what it means to be a Christian. It is to keep awake and to look forward to the blessings that we hope for.
For this present life, Jesus tells us, Gird your loins and light your lamps, presumably with the light of faith, because without that faith, it’s night all the time, like the night that enveloped Egypt at the first Passover. But that night was known beforehand to our fathers, says the book of Wisdom, and in the houses of the Hebrews, the lamps were lit, so that, with sure knowledge of the oaths in which they put their faith, they might have courage. Your people awaited the salvation of the just.
The night of unbelief envelops everyone in a secular society. But inside the Church, the lamp of faith is lit, and everywhere his servants proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. At our own Mass this morning, dinner will be served – not unleavened bread and bitter herbs, but Christ’s own Body and Blood. They are our food for the journey of life, to strengthen us until he comes again, girds himself, has us recline at table, and proceeds to wait on us. There we will hunger no more, but we will always have an appetite. We will thirst no more, but we will always desire to drink more deeply of the fountain of life, and the Lord will fill up every soul with love and with himself. We have only to be prepared, for at an hour we do not expect, the Son of Man will come.
That ignorance will be bliss if we make good use of it. Come, Lord Jesus!