It is that time of year when we begin to see readings in daily Masses that are clearly eschatological and, some would say, apocalyptic in the Scriptures read at Mass every day. We see this in today’s readings, for example, when John has a vision of the Heavenly Liturgy, and Jesus tells what the headers in the Revised Standard Version refer to as the “Parable of the Ten Pounds” in Matthew 19:11-28. In it, Jesus tells the story of a nobleman’s servants who were given charge over his affairs while the nobleman went away to receive official authority as king. When he returns, he punishes the one servant who receives only one pound to invest but who does nothing profitable with it. And those who did not wish for the new king to reign over them, the King orders that these enemies be brought to him and slain before him.
These readings are not always comfortable for us to hear, because one of the traditional interpretations of this parable is that it is speaking of the judgment on those who knowingly reject Christ, or who obstinately refuse to accept the reign of Christ in their lives even though they know that they ought to. One other interpretation of this passage, however, centers on the very first verse, Luke 19:11. In that verse, the Gospel writer explains what Jesus’ hearers were expecting as Jesus shared this parable with them as he was nearing Jerusalem:
As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the Kingdom of God was to appear immediately.
By this point in Luke’s account of Jesus’ ministry, many of his followers had come to believe that he was, in fact, the Messiah. A lot of these people thought that Jesus was going to reign as an earthly king, cast out the hated Roman occupiers, and that the Kingdom of God that he spoke of would involve his restoration of the House of David in their lifetime. This belief was even prevalent among the eleven faithful apostles, as evidenced by the question that the writer of the Acts of the Apostles tells us that they asked Jesus before his Ascension in Acts 1:6-8, when he was asked if he would, at that time, restore the Kingdom to Israel. Jesus told them that it wasn’t for them to know the times or the seasons, but he promised them that the Holy Spirit would come and make them his witnesses to the whole world.
The parable told in the Gospel today was one way that Jesus was trying to tell his followers, impatient as they were for justice to be done to those who were oppressing them, that the Reign of God will come, but it will not come in the way that they are expecting. Instead it will come with the Son of Man’s return, when he will “settle accounts” with humanity, especially with those of us who have professed in this world to be his servants.
Last year at around this time, I pointed out how we tend to hear these eschatological, or “end-time” Scripture readings as the Liturgical Year draws to a close and Advent is about to begin. The Church reminds us yearly that as the year is coming to an end and we are about to celebrate the first Advent of Christ into this world, that there will be a second Advent. The Lord will not come to us then as a baby in a manger, but he will come as Our King and Lord, and as the Supreme Judge of all the earth.
As we prepare to conclude the Church’s Year and begin anew, let us reflect on that which the Church might have us reflect on in regard to the series of readings that we hear at this point on the ecclesiastical calendar. Have we been profitable servants of Jesus Christ? We know that we are all sinners, but where we recognize that we have failed in that regard, are we ready to fess up to it in the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Do we look for Christ in the poor, and most especially in the isolated and the forgotten people in the world around us? Do we seek, where we can and where it is possible, to bring Christ and bring the Church to those hurting in our communities? What have we done to share the Gospel today, or this week, with others, and how have we shared it? Have we been a reflection of Christ today? Most of all, have we made time for God today in prayer and reflection? We can’t do any of those other things aforementioned in the way that Christ would have us do them if we do not truly know Jesus, and we can come to know him through our prayer life.
The questions asked in the paragraph above are not questions merely for those of you who read this blog, though I hope you might prayerfully avail yourselves of them. If you substitute the “we” in those questions with “I” and the “us” with “me,” the general thrust of these questions should give you some idea of what my daily examination of conscience is like. I always ask God to give me a large dose of humility, because I know myself to well not to understand that I sorely need it. Most importantly, these questions are good to ask as we end the Church Year and begin Advent. Where we fail, we can resolve anew to be more Christ-like in the coming year, and to be ready, for we know not the day nor the hour (cf. Mt. 24:44) in which the Son of Man will come.