Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Times

August 7th, 2016

Father Stéphane Pouliot

What is faith?  And how do we get ready for the final judgement?  Those are the two questions that God answers today through what He revealed of his heart for us in the Bible.

 

The 11th chapter of the letter to the Hebrews, our second reading this Sunday, is known as the “Hall of Faith”.  In this excerpt, we encounter again and again what other people did by faith: most especially Abraham.

 

Let us therefore answer our first question: “What is faith?”  Is faith simply believing?  It certainly includes assenting intellectually to a list of statements, as in I believe that God created the world.  I believe God became man.  I believe that Jesus rose from the dead. But it is more than a checklist of things I agree with.

 

Faith, if it is alive, means action based on your belief that God is faithful, trustworthy and good.  By faith, Abraham walked to a land he knew not, and dared to offer up Isaac his beloved son, because he believed God to be faithful to His promises to him.

 

Recapping them what we just said, we know that faith is divided into two things:

First, faith is an intellectual assent, whereupon I believe the promise of God and what God reveals to me about who He is.

Secondly, this assent turns into doing something about what I assented to believe.  I am therefore invited to entrust myself without conditions to God, an entrusting that can only be aimed at God, because it is so unconditional and total that only God deserves this kind of trust.  Only God will not disappoint this kind of trust.

 

Our faithfulness is built upon his faithfulness.  The reason that Abraham entrusted himself to God is that he knew God to be trustworthy.  God is declaring that our contribution to this Hall of Faith is awaiting us after death.  By faith, what will we do with our lives?[1]  We must respond in action to what Jesus did for us.  In dying on the Cross, and rising from the dead, Jesus is the bridge over the raging waters of sin, which separated us from God.  Jesus is coming back at the end of history, but also at the moment of our death.

 

Therefore, the second question God answers for us this week is: “How do we get ready for the final judgement?”  Jesus gives three practical answers to this question.  First, we get ready for the final judgement by storing up treasures in heaven, Jesus said.

 

How do we build up heavenly treasures in order to get ready?  Proverbs chapter 19 verse 17 states the following: “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and will be repaid in full.”  In giving money to the poor, we are not giving money away, but we are giving our money to God who will one day repay us in full, hence the treasure in heaven.

 

The second answer Jesus gives to the question: “How do we get ready for the final judgement?” is to be dressed for action and have our lamps lit, so that when He returns to judge the living and the dead, we are ready to welcome Him.

If we are ready when Jesus comes, he, our Master will gird himself, and serve us.  Jesus is no ordinary Master, and we are no ordinary servants, since we are destined to reign with Him in His kingdom.  Let us therefore be ready, always vigilant, and always lovingly prepared for His return.

 

Finally, the third and final answer Jesus gives to the question: “How do we get ready for the final judgement?” is contained in the parable of the wise and faithful steward.  In this parable, we find that different outcomes apply if the servant is ready or not to welcome His Master the King when He returns.

 

The first outcome applies to the steward who knew what to do to get ready, and did it.  He will enter into salvation, and therefore Heaven.

 

The second outcome applies to the unfaithful steward who is not only unprepared to welcome His Master back, but while waiting abuses his fellow servants, and misuses His Master’s things.  The images here are violent, and signify the death of the steward.  In other words, the unfaithful and abusive steward will be cast into Hell.

 

The third and fourth outcomes have two things in common: the steward is negligent and therefore will suffer as a result of his or her negligence, but will neither enter Heaven nor be cast into Hell.  The negligent servant who knew what to do to get ready, but did not do it by deliberate neglect will be punished severely, while the servant who was negligent out of ignorance, will not be punished so severely.

The third and fourth outcomes are an image of the necessary purification of the sinners, who are neither ready for Heaven, nor hell-bound, and therefore enter after death into what the Church calls “Purgatory”.

 

Our first reading from the book of Wisdom gave a summary statement of what happened at the first Passover and draws a clear lesson from it: the people of God were ready in Egypt for the coming judgement of the Passover night by sacrificing the lamb.  In the same way, Jesus is calling us, his people, to be ready for the coming judgement by sacrificing our money in almsgiving to the poor.

 

As the psalmist proclaimed: at the end of the day, it is the Lord who is delivering us.  Our faith and hope is to be placed in Jesus.  Our faith can only be alive if in addition to agreeing intellectually to what God says and accepting who God is, we surrender to Jesus. This surrender compels us to act on our belief that God keeps His promises and will return.  Therefore, we must be ready for the final judgement by giving our money to the poor, awaiting vigilantly the return of Jesus our Master, and committing ourselves to love God ever more and our neighbours by showing His mercy to them as us on the Cross.[2]

[1] To answer the first question, I am drawing here from the teaching given by Jeff Cavins in this week’s «Encountering the Word » video, in view of the biblical readings the Church gives us to meditate upon for the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C.  It can be found within the Great Adventure Blog.

[2] I am also greatly indebted to Dr. Brant Pitre, whose video ‘Be Ready !  The Master is coming back.  – The Lectionary Readings Explained’ for the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C, was a goldmine of insight.  It can be found at his Catholic productions blog.



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