August 7, 2016
XIX Ordinary Time, Year C
We begin with two premises.
In last Sunday’s Gospel (Lk 12: 16-21) we encountered the parable of the rich – and foolish – man who thought he could live the remainder of his life as a time in which to enjoy all that he had accumulated. He already had everything, all in his hands, and everything that could befall him happened.
And so he did not expect more to happen, nor did he wait for anything or anyone.
The second premise concerns the fact that the other Synoptic Gospels (Mark and Matthew) focus their attention on eschatological passages that concern vigilance, waiting, the end times and the return of the Lord in glory – to the end of their narration, immediately before the Passion account. And this evidently has its own meaning. Before leaving his disciples, Jesus teaches them about the time of waiting, a time in which, without his physical presence, they must be builders of his Kingdom in history.
Luke, instead, strangely, “dilutes” the accounts in several places of his Gospel: what we heard today, in chapter 12, exactly halfway through Gospel; then later, in chapter 17 (vv. 20-37); and finally before the Passion, in chapter 21.
Why does Luke do this? Perhaps because he wants the disciples to get used to the thought that the Lord’s return will not only be the end of time, but that is somewhat “diluted” in history; and that the wait is not just waiting for a last moment – so much so as to not touch the present – when the Lord will return; but it is waiting for today, a wait that now makes room for the Lord who comes.
A return that one prepares for and lives every day, because the Lord is “the One who is come”: in the Apocalyse “The Coming One” is the name of God, it is his own name, repeated 4 times (Rev 1.4; 1.7; 1.8; 4.8).
Jesus speaks of this with three parables: the one of the servants waiting for their master to return from the wedding, that of the thief, and that of the administrator who is managing the assets of his master in the time of his absence.
The first and last – with various nuances – highlight the theme of waiting and service, the second that of the unpredictability of the Lord’s passing, compared to that of a thief.
Therefore, if the rich fool of last Sunday did not expect anything and anyone, Jesus speaks of life in exactly opposite terms, as the place where He is. Life is not a completed time, full, where all has already happened, but a time that is always waiting for and preparing for other things.
The first reading (Wisdom 18: 6-9) tells us that this “other” has the face of Easter: Life is like a night of waiting, and not just any wait, it is the expectation of salvation. Every night, potentially, is a night of Passover.
That is why Jesus begins his parables inviting his disciples to have attitudes that were characteristic of the exodus night of liberation: the loins girded, lighted lamps (Lk 12, 35) of those who finally set off.
Then life is a progressive freedom, a progressive opening to the Lord who visits us.
But what is this freedom?
Paradoxically, according to today’s Gospel, this freedom is the ability to serve. Not a freedom from service, but a freedom for service, this is the free choice to share the style of Jesus, whose authority was that of the One who gave His entire self, in love.
Every man needs to grow, and to be helped to become more and more human: and the new life of the disciple is a life that is at the service of this growth.
But the heart of today’s Gospel is not even so much the theme of service, as that of the close bond that exists between anticipation and service, such as between two realities that cannot do without each other: it is waiting for the Lord, in fact, that transforms lives in service of others.
Since the Lord will return, then my life will take the form of service, making his coming possible, real, everyday.
Only if I await the One who is the servant, who has put himself at my service, only if I feel at home in His style of love, will I live in my house with His own ‘gusto’, with the same passion for people and for things. Only if I really await for it, will I cherish life, yours and others, because it is His return that makes it so precious.
In fact, the Gospel tells us that where there is less waiting (“But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming’,” v. 45), there is also less care of others: the servant begins to beat the other servants and the maidservants, to eat, drink and get drunk, and authority becomes a tyrant.
Where one loses the horizon of meaning, service becomes a burden, and this becomes a place of alienation and escape.
In the Old Testament, there is an episode in chapter 32, (and we’re still in the Exodus) where we find the same dynamic, where the people were tired of waiting for Moses (“When the people saw that Moses was delayed in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for that man Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him.”, v.1) and fall into the sin of idolatry. They make a golden calf and then began to eat, drink and enjoy themselves, like the parable of the servant …
Waiting, then, is also the period of trial, where one chooses whether to remain faithful to the One who will return, but where one can also fall into idolatry. And idolatry is exactly the opposite of the service, it is using reality – things and others – in one’s own service.
There is no service, then, without waiting … More than striving to serve (which would already be idolatry), we are called to take care of the desire for encounter, because it will be this attitude of heart that makes us truly servants.