Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s Liturgy of the Word, brothers and sisters in Christ, is a kind of handbook, I think, for the Christian disciple. Those of us who would follow in the steps of Jesus are given several wonderful pearls of wisdom which are meant to guide us on the way. So today, I thought it would be good to reflect on them, even though they may seem disjointed, and see where they are leading us. So let’s roll up our sleeves and work through them.

The first pearl comes from our second reading from the letter to the Hebrews. The first like is perhaps one of the best known verses of Scripture: “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” Faith is something we all strive to have, but faith is really a gift. We long to be people of faith because it is faith that gives peace in the midst of uncertainty. Faith, as the author points out, is not the same thing as proof. Proof requires evidence, and faith usually provides none of that. Faith, perhaps, is not knowing what will happen, but instead knowing the one in whom we trust. If we know our God is trustworthy, then we don’t need to know all the details of what is ahead of us; instead, we can trust in the One who leads us. The more that we exercise that faith, the more our faith grows.

The next three pearls of wisdom come from our Gospel today. We could really divide that Gospel into three parts, with the wisdom saying at or near the end of each part. The first of these is “For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” This part looks a lot like the continuation of last week’s Gospel. Last week we were cautioned not to store up worthless treasure in barns, but instead to invest in whatever will lead us to heaven. Today’s saying is kind of an examination of conscience along that same line of teaching. Here Jesus is inviting us to look at exactly what has been our treasure. Has it been success, power, prestige and wealth? Or has it been compassion, nurturing, mercy and justice? Have we put all of our energies into our work or play time, or have we spent time on our families, in our prayer life, and in works of mercy? What is our treasure? If our treasure is in things of the world, then our heart will be in the world and we will have no chance for salvation. But if our treasure is in our true home in heaven, then that’s where we will find our heart and our salvation.

The next pearl comes at the end of a teaching on the need for watchfulness and waiting. It’s almost an Advent theme right here in mid-August. Here, Jesus says to us: “You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” We do all sorts of waiting. We wait in the grocery line and in the doctor’s office. We wait for friends or family to join us at the dinner table. We wait for job offers, for the right person in our relationships, and we wait for the right direction in our lives. In all of our waiting, Jesus tells us today, we must be prepared for the outpouring of God’s grace. If we are distracted by worldly things and worldly activities, we may miss that grace as it is poured out right before us. If we are caught up in things that have no permanence, we may miss our opportunity to follow Christ to our salvation. We must always be prepared for the Son of Man to come into our lives.

And the final pearl is one of my favorites, perhaps the most challenging words I have ever had spoken to me. It comes right at the end of the Gospel today: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” When I was in seminary, they used to put it in the words of another translation of this verse: “From those to whom much has been given, much will be expected.” Think about it. We are citizens of the richest nation on earth. We live in perhaps the wealthiest city in the wealthiest counties in that nation. We worship freely, without threat of death or incarceration. Our children have opportunities for education beyond the wildest imaginings of those in other nations, or even in most cities of our country. We sit here in an air conditioned Church and worship with great music, vibrant ministries, and committed ministers of all kinds. We have truly been given much – much more than most people can dream of, much more than we deserve at any given point in our lives. Grace is all around us. So what are we giving in return? Much has been given, and much will be expected. If we are not living our faith every day, if we are not giving back to our world from what we have been given, then we are guilty of stealing it. Much is expected of us disciples, and perhaps today’s Scriptures are calling us to reflect on how we have been delivering on that expectation.

All of these pearls of wisdom are – to use a corporate expression that I absolutely loathe – “raising the bar” in our faith life. The letter to the Hebrews calls us to live our faith and not just say we have faith. Jesus in the Gospel tells us to take that faith and do something with it. He calls us to find treasure in the things of heaven, to wait for our salvation with eager longing, and to give from the rich treasure of that which we have been given. This coming year, our parish vision has us reflecting on stewardship, reflecting on what we have been given and what we are doing with it. Today’s Liturgy of the Word is a great way to start our reflections along those lines. We rejoice today to be God’s people, to gather around the table of Word and Sacrifice. As the Psalmist says so eloquently today: “Blessed,” indeed happy, “the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.”

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