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The Ends Are Better Than the End

Lectio Divina: XIX Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Roman Rite

Wis 18.6 – 9; Ps 33; Heb 11, 1-2.8-19; Lk 12.32 – 48

Ambrosian Rite

2 Kings 25.1 – 17 [short form 25.1 – 6. 8-12]; Ps 77; Rm 2, 1-10; Mt 23.37 – 24.2

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

1) The ends and the end.

The Gospel of this XIX Sunday in Ordinary Time shows Jesus who is still preaching to the crowds on the attitude to have in daily life, trusting the providence and keeping a proper responsibility towards the goods of the earth. At the same time the Messiah reminds them and us that there is a very demanding master to whom we will have to be accountable. This master, upon his return, will ask us account for the goods that he has entrusted to us. To manage rightly the assets of the Earth we should take seriously his call: Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy””(Lk 12, 33). To do so and to be able to live the “freedom of poverty” (Mother Teresa of Calcutta), we need to acquire a more secure and firm faith, to be prepared and vigilant and to have openness of mind and heart to eternity.

In today’s Gospel Jesus teaches us not only how “to use” things but how “to use” time. He tells us that we have to live our daily lives in the light of to the final horizon light, which is eternity. This horizon is not the end but the ends of life to be reached walking and serving.

To walk without tripping, it was necessary, at that time, to tight the belt at the hips so that the tunic would be a little raised to avoid tripping over it. This was the way of dressing of one who was ready to start a journey, like the Jews during the celebration of the Passover in Egypt (see. Ex 12, 11). Christ calls us to be “ready, with loin dressed and lamps burning” (Lk 12, 35). The raised tunic was not only the travel code but also that for work and, therefore, the way to serve. Of course, at that time the servants were mostly slaves.

The Jews then, and we today, are called to do the exodus journey to serve God, worshiping Him and serving Him in the neighbor. The exodus to which we are called is a path of freedom that does not mean to do what we like. This is not freedom, it is selfishness. True freedom is to love and to serve. We are called to serve, not to enslave or to subdue others using them.

The fact that Christ asks to have lighted lamps means that we are called to walk in the night and to live vigilantly awaiting for someone, for the return of Him who does not warn us on when he arrives.

Only He knows the day and the hour in which he will invite us to the last, and not the least painful, part of our earthy life journey, to begin the eternal one: “Let burn in our hearts, O Lord, the same faith that led Abraham to live on earth as a pilgrim, and let not shut our lamp so that, vigilant waiting for your time, we are introduced by you into the eternal homeland “(today’s Mass prayer). Christ asks us to have open hearts and eyes that the burning lamps allow to see the One who comes and knocks on the door. If we open, He comes in and has dinner with us, and we with Him (Rev 3,20).

2) Watchful and faithful waiting.

With the parable of the master who returns at night, Jesus presents life as a vigil. The image of the earthly life as a night vigil waiting for the day, indicates that man is waiting and that the “night” of earthly life is not an empty time during which one can only try to resist the fear of looming threats and dangers. It is an active time in which to be busy at the best of one’s abilities.

After this brief parable of the master who returns from the wedding and the Lord who comes unexpectedly as a thief, Jesus tells the parable of the faithful administrator (vv. 41-48). The theme of the watch is enhanced by that of the “loyalty” in the administration of the master’s goods and of the sense of responsibility.

The servant is “faithful” because the master is one who calls us friends. He is one who became a slave of his servants whom, at his sudden return, he found still awake and vigilant.  Then he girded his hips and began to serve them (see Lk 12, 37).

Therefore, it is not in the logic of fear of the master or the fear of his likely punishment that we must live waiting for the Kingdom, but in the loving and active wake, in the simple belief that the true usefulness and the real progress of ourselves and of the others is made effective only with faithful constant and vigilant service. We must have active hands and open hearts. Giving is more convenient than receiving, because it sets us free from every constraint in view of the love of Christ.

Like travelers and pilgrims, we are unaware of the moment and time of departure, but pretty sure of having to leave with God.

Like the ten virgins waiting in the middle of the night, we do not know the time of the arrival of the bridegroom, but expect to walk with Christ the bridegroom.

Like the servants who await the return of the landlord, unaware of when he will arrive, let’s be vigilant.

  Like simple believers who feed on hope, let raise in the sky (in God) our look, because the future is guaranteed by the faithfulness to the Lord.  May Christ, who came to make us faithful and returns to make us blessed, help us?

Let’s keep in mind that the Lord’s return is not a whatsoever episode of our existence. It is there that our hope merges, it is at that moment that we risk our salvation, the eternal life. We should not be vigilant only in view of a departure or a final meeting, but also be ready to seize the moment – that we cannot  decide – of grace and of conversion, or even the daily opportunities to do good . God’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt took place in the middle of the night, a night which was foretold by the prophets, but of which no one knew the precise moment. This is the need for vigilance and expectation. We will become capable of it when our faith in God results in complete abandonment to his will and in the certainty of his loyalty that never fails. In the ever faithful heart of God our allegiance has its nest.

3) A theft?

We servants become friends and await Christ who comes suddenly like a thief that does not take anything but our heart (it is the third image of today’s Gospel).

Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus wrote: “It is said in the Gospel that the Lord will come like a thief (Mt. 24, 43).He will come soon to steal me. How I would like to help the thief! “

If we are ready to this theft, He will “rob” us of all that hinders our encounter with God, to go from the slavery of the law to the service of love, from the night of liberation to the light of the Promised Land, and we will put our heart there where is the real treasure.

The Consecrated Virgins not only let themselves be robbed by Christ, but with joy help this “thief” offering happily everything: body and soul and material and spiritual goods. They strive to live a real poverty of spirit.

In addition to that, with life and prayer they practice the invitation of Jesus the Bridegroom: “Keep your lamps burning” (Lk 12:35): the lamp of faith, the lamp of prayer, the lamp of hope and of love. It is true that this is an invitation addressed to all Christians, but it is important to remember that the consecrated virgins in the world represent in a special way all the faithful waiting and aiming towards the Kingdom. Like lighted lamps, they are a symbol of vigilance. It is a wedding vigilance, therefore industrious and joyful.

  This women show that the Christian walks in the darkness of the world, bringing light and keeping watch, for he who loves, is vigilant.

The fact that on the day of their consecration they also received a lamp, indicates our condition as Christians on a bridal journey: we need light, and at the same time, we are called to become light, irradiating it.

Patristic Reading

Saint Augustine of Hippo

Sermon LVIII. [CVIII. Ben.]

 

On the words of the gospel, Lc 12,35 “Let your loins be girded about, and your lamps burning; and be ye yourselves like,” etc. And on the words of the 34th psalm, 5,12, “what man is he that desireth life,” etc.

 

1). Our Lord Jesus Christ both came to men, and went away from men, and is to come to men. And yet He was here when He came, nor did He depart when He went away, and He is to come to them to whom He said, “Lo, I am with you, even unto the end of the world.”1 According to the “form of a servant” then, which He took for our sakes, was He born at a certain time, and was slain, and rose again, and now “dieth no more, neither shall death have any more dominion over Him;”2 but according to His Divinity, wherein He was equal to the Father, was He already in this world, and “theworld was made by Him, and the world knew Him not.”3 On this point ye have just heardthe Gospel, what admonition it has given us, putting us on our guard, and wishing us to be unencumbered and prepared to await the end; that after these last4 things, which are to befeared in this world, that rest may succeed which hath no end. Blessed are they who shall be partakers of it. For then shall they be in security, who are not in security now; and again then shall they fear, who will not fear now. Unto this waiting, and for this hope’s sake, havewe been made Christians. Is not our hope not of this world? Let us then not love the world. From the love of this world have we been called away, that we may hope for and love another. In this world ought we to abstain from all unlawful desires, to have, that is, “our loins girded;” and to be fervent and to shine in good works, that is, to have “our lights burning.” For the Lord Himself said to His disciples in another place of the Gospel, “No man lighteth a candle and putteth it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that it may give light unto all that are in the house.”5 And to show of what He was speaking, He subjoined and said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”6

 

  1. Therefore He would that “our loins should be girded, and our lights burning.”7 What is, “our loins girded”? “Depart from evil.”8 What is to “burn”? What is to have our “lights burning”? It is this, “And do good.” What is that which He said afterwards, “And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their Lord, when He will return from the wedding:”9 except that which follows in that Psalm, “Seek after peace, and ensue it”?10 These three things, that is, “abstaining from evil, and doing good,” and the hope of everlasting reward, are recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, where it is written, that Paul taught them of “temperance and righteousness,”11 and the hope of eternal life. To temperance belongs, “let your loins be girded.” To righteousness, “and your lights burning.” To the hope of eternal life, the waiting for the Lord. So then, “depart from evil,” this is temperance, these are the loins girded: “and do good,” this is righteousness, these are the “lights burning;” “seek peace, and ensue it,” this is the waiting for the world to come: therefore, “Be ye like unto men that wait for their Lord, when He will come from the wedding.”

 

  1. Having then these precepts and promises, why seek we on earth for “good days,” where we cannot find them? For I know that ye do seek them, when ye are either sick, or in any of the tribulations, which in this world abound. For when life draws towards its close, the old man is full of complaints, and with no joys. Amid all the tribulations by which mankind is worn away, men seek for nothing but “good days,” and wish for a long life, which here they cannot have. For even a man’s long life is narrowed within so short a span to the wide extent of all ages, as if it were but one drop to the whole sea. What then is man’s life, even that which is called a long one? They call that a long life, which even in this world’s course is short; and as I have said, groans abound even unto the decrepitude of old age. This at the most is but brief, and of short duration; and yet how eagerly is it sought by men, with how great diligence, with how great toil, with how great carefulness, with how great watchfulness, with how great labour do men seek to live here for a long time, and to grow old. And yet this very living long, what is it but running to the end? Thou hadst yesterday, and thou dost wish also to have to-morrow. But when this day and to-morrow are passed, thou hast them not. Therefore thou dost wish for the day to break, that may draw near to thee whither thou hast no wish to come. Thou makest some annual festival with thy friends, and hearest it there said to thee by thy well-wishers, “Mayest thou live many years,” thou dost wish that what they have said, may come to pass. What? Dost thou wish that years and years may come, and the end of these years come not? Thy wishes are contrary to one another; thou dost wish to walk on, and dost not wish to reach the end.

 

  1. But if, as I have said, there is so great care in men, as to desire with daily, great and perpetual labours, to die somewhat later: with how great cause ought they to strive, that they may never die? Of this, no one will think. Day by day “good days” are sought for in this world, where they are not found; yet no one wishes so to live, that he may arrive there where they are found. Therefore the same Scripture admonishes us, and says, “Who is the man that wisheth for life, and loveth to see good days?”12 Scripture so asked the question, as that It knew well what answer would be given It; knowing that all men would “seek for life and good days.” In accordance with their desire It asked the question, as if the answer would be given It from the heart of all, “I wish it;” It said thus, “Who is the man that wisheth for life, and loveth to see good days?” Just as even at this very hour in which I am speaking to you, when ye heard me say, “Who is the man that wisheth for life, and loveth to see good days?” ye all answered in your heart, “I.” For so do I too, who am speaking with you, “wish for life and good days;” what ye seek, that do I seek also.

 

  1. Just as if gold were necessary for us all, and we all, I as well as you, were wishing to get at the gold, and there was some anywhere in a field of yours, in a place subject to your power, and I were to see you searching for it, and were to say to you, “What are ye searching for?” ye were to answer me, “Gold.” And I were to say to you, “Ye are searching for gold, and I am searching for gold too: what ye are searching for, I am searching for; but ye are not searching for it where we can find it. Listen to me then, where we can find it; I am not taking it away from you, I am showing you the spot;” yea, let us all follow Him, who knows where what we are seeking for, is. So now too seeing that ye desire “life and good days,” we cannot say to you, “Do not desire ‘life and good days;’“ but this we say, “Do not seek for ‘life and good days’ here in this world, where ‘good days’ cannot be.” Is not this life itself like unto death? Now these days here hasten and pass away: for to-day has shut out yesterday; tomorrow only rises that it may shut out to-day. These days themselves have no abiding; wherefore wouldest thou abide with them? Your desire then whereby ye wish for “life and good days,” I not only do not repress, but I even more strongly inflame. By all means “seek” for” life, seek for good days;” but let them be sought there, where they can be found.

 

  1. For would ye with me hear His counsel, who knoweth where “good days” and where “life” is? Hear it not from me, but together with me. For One says to us, “Come, ye children, hearken unto Me.” And let us run together, and stand, and prick up our ears, and with our hearts understand the Father, who hath said, “Come, ye children, hearken unto Me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord.”13 And then follows what he would teach us, and to what end the fear of the Lord is useful. “Who is the man that wisheth life, and loveth to see good days?” We all answer, “We wish it.” Let us listen then to what follows, “Refrain thy tongue from evil, and thy lips that they speak no guile.”14 Now say, “I wish it.” Just now when I said, “Who is the man that wisheth for life, and loveth to see good days?” we all answered, “I.” Come then, let some one now answer “I.” So then, “Refrain thy tongue from evil, and thy lips that they speak no guile.” Now say, “I.” Wouldest thou then have “good days” and “life,” and wouldest thou not “refrain thy tongue from evil, and thy lips that they speak no guile”? Alert to the reward, slow to the work! And to whom if he does not work is the reward rendered? I would that in thy house thou wouldest render the reward even to him that does work! For to him that works not, I am sure thou dost not render it. And why? Because thou owest nothing to him that does not work! And God hath a reward proposed. What reward? “Life and good days,” which life we all desire, and unto which days we all strive to come. The promised reward He will give us. What reward? “Life and good days.” And what are “good days”? Life without end, rest without labour.

 

  1. Great is the reward He hath set before us: in so great a reward as is set before us, let us see what He hath commanded us. For enkindled by the reward of so great a promise, and by the love of the reward, let us make ready at once our strength, our sides, our arms, to do His bidding. Is it as if He were to command us to carry heavy burdens, to dig something it may be, or to raise up some machine? No, no such laborious thing hath He enjoined thee, but hath enjoined thee only to “refrain” that member which amongst all thy members thou dost move so quickly. “Refrain thy tongue from evil.” It is no labour to erect a building, and is it a labour to hold in the tongue? “Refrain thy tongue from evil.” Speak no lie, speak no revilings, speak no slanders, speak no false witnesses, speak no blasphemies. “Refrain thy tongue from evil.” See how angry thou art, if any one speaks evil of thee. As thou art angry with another, when he speaks evil of thee; so be thou angry with thyself, when thou speakest evil of another. “Let thy lips speak no guile.” What is in thine heart within, be that spoken out. Let not thy breast conceal one thing, and thy tongue utter another. “Depart from evil, and do good.” For how should I say, “Clothe the naked,” to him who up to this time would strip him that is clothed? For he that oppresses his fellow-citizen, how can he take in the stranger? So then in proper order, first “depart from evil,” and “do good;” first “gird up thy loins,” and then “light the lamp.” And when thou hast done this, wait in assured hope for “life and good days.” “Seek peace, and ensue it;” and then with a good face wilt thou say unto the Lord, “I have done what Thou hast bidden, render me what Thou hast promised.”

 

1 (Mt 28,20

2 (Rm 6,9

3 (Jn 1,10

4 The troubles through the incursions of the barbarian tribes, as heralds of the end. See St. Cyprian, Ad Demetr. 2, p. 201, Oxf. tr.; De Mort. 5,2, p. 216, 7.

5 (Mt 5,15

6 (Mt 5,16

7 (Lc 12,35

8 (Ps 34,14

9 (Lc 12,36

10 (Ps 34,14

11 (Ac 24,25).

12 (Ps 34,12

13 (Ps 34,11

14 (Ps 34,13).

 

About Archbishop Francesco Follo

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