Faithful and Prudent Servants of the Divine Thief, 21st Thursday (I), August 31, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Thursday of the 21st Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
August 31, 2017
1 Thes 3:7-13, Ps 90, Mt 24:42-51

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today Jesus uses a shocking image to describe himself in relation to us. We’re used to so many other titles he gives himself that are rich and inviting: Good Shepherd, Son of Man, Son of God, Savior, Lord, Resurrection and Life, Light of the World, the Way, The Truth, Gate, and more. Today he labels himself as a Thief, putting that title in parallel with “your Lord” and “Son of Man.” We normally don’t hold thieves in esteem. The whole reason why the Good Thief is remembered by that title is because “good” and “thief” together are paradoxical terms. But this clearly what he means to communicate. In the Book of Revelation, he addresses St. John twice by saying, “If you are not watchful, I will come like a thief and you will never know at what hour I will come” (Rev 3:3) and “Behold I am coming like a thief” (Rev 16:15). St. Paul, later in his first letter to the Thessalonians than the passage we have this morning says, “For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night. … But you, brothers, are not in darkness, for that day to overtake you like a thief” (1 Thess 5:2-4). St. Peter in his Second Letter likewise reminder the early Christians, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief” (2 Pet 3:10).
  • Why does Jesus choose this image? I think for two reasons. The first is to help us acknowledge and overcome our sense of ownership of our life, our time, our things. We’re afraid of thieves because we are afraid of losing what we have. But none of what we have — even our life — is our own. We’re stewards of a gift. We can’t and won’t be afraid of the “thievery” of God if we’re already seeking to give him all we have and are. The second reason is to focus on the aspect of surprise. We’re afraid of thieves because we want to feel safe, we want to think that while we’re asleep or away that we and our possessions are protected, that they’ll all be there when we return or wake up, that somebody won’t liquidate our bank account, or empty our house of all its valuables, or even swipe and use our identity. Unlike armed robbers who act in daylight overpowering us with threat of force or death, thieves are more like pickpockets, working when we don’t expect. Jesus does not want us to be surprised, but rather always expecting him, always awake, sober, looking forward to an encounter with him, so that we’re never surprised when he comes, in day to day life, or, more apropos to today’s Gospel, at the end of our life on earth.
  • The types of virtues Jesus wishes for us in awaiting his thievery are given in the second part of today’s Gospel, when Jesus describes the “faithful and prudent servant.” Faithful, pistis in Greek, means first “believing” or “trusting,” indicating that it’s someone who trusts in the Master and in turn earns the Master’s trust. He believes in the Master. He loves the Master. He believes he’s good and worthy of his trust and so behaves, intentionally, consistent with that. The other virtue is phronimos, which is generally translated “wise” or “prudent” but basically means practical, acting considerately on the truth, incarnating goodness in needs. It’s someone who is passionately committed to fulfilling one’s duties out of that trust and love in the ruler. Jesus contrasts this faithful and prudent steward with the “wicked servant,” who thinks his master is long delayed, who harms the other servants, who gives in to pleasure, who thinks that there will always be time to clean things up later and fake as if he were faithful and prudent. But this image conveys to us very clearly the diabolical ploy to convince us that there’s always time; Jesus on the other hand wants us to live as if every day is the day of his coming. He doesn’t tell us the day or the hour precisely so that we might treat every day as that day or hour, and rather than dread an ambush, live in alert, loving expectation.
  • Someone who shows us how to do this is St. Therese Lisieux. During the last couple of years of her life, as she was dying of tuberculosis, she began to relate to Jesus as “Le Voleur,” the “thief,” more and more. She wanted to help the thief steal her heart. When her sister Pauline (Mother Agnes of Jesus) asked her whether she was afraid of the thief who seemed to be at the door, she replied, “He’s not at the door. He’s already come in,” adding, “How could I be afraid of someone I love so much?” She made up a small aspiration that she would pray, showing her approach to Jesus the Thief, “Le Voleur viendra et m’emport’ra Alleluia!” “The thief will come and snatch me away! Alleluia!” Her whole approach was summarized by her waiting for the Thief quietly with loving expectation to take her to be with him forever. She was always alert and awake for his coming.
  • One of the most helpful things I’ve ever read, early in my own journey, was Chapter 23 of the Imitation of Christ, which is all about the spirituality of a faithful and prudent servant. In it Thomas à Kempis wisely teaches us, “Very soon your life here will end; consider, then, what may be in store for you elsewhere. … In every deed and every thought, act as though you were to die this very day. … If you are not prepared today, how will you be prepared tomorrow? Tomorrow is an uncertain day; how do you know you will have a tomorrow? … Blessed is he who keeps the moment of death ever before his eyes and prepares for it every day. … In the morning consider that you may not live till evening, and when evening comes do not dare to promise yourself the dawn. Be always ready, therefore, and so live that death will never take you unprepared. Many die suddenly and unexpectedly, for in the unexpected hour the Son of God will come. When that last moment arrives you will begin to have a quite different opinion of the life that is now entirely past and you will regret very much that you were so careless and remiss. How happy and prudent is he who tries now in life to be what he wants to be found in death.… The present is very precious; these are the days of salvation; now is the acceptable time. … Try to live now in such a manner that at the moment of death you may be glad rather than fearful. Learn to die to the world now, that then you may begin to live with Christ. Learn to spurn all things now, that then you may freely go to Him.”
  • This type of spirituality ought to impact our daily encounter with the Holy Thief at the altar. We ought to live every Mass as if it is our last, every Communion as if it is Viaticum, every proclamation of the Gospel as if it’s the words of eternal life we most need to near, every command to “do this in memory of Jesus” as an action item to spend our last day seeing to honor and spread love of him.

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1 1 THES 3:7-13

We have been reassured about you, brothers and sisters,
in our every distress and affliction, through your faith.
For we now live, if you stand firm in the Lord.

What thanksgiving, then, can we render to God for you,
for all the joy we feel on your account before our God?
Night and day we pray beyond measure to see you in person
and to remedy the deficiencies of your faith.
Now may God himself, our Father, and our Lord Jesus
direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase
and abound in love for one another and for all,
just as we have for you,
so as to strengthen your hearts,
to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father
at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones. Amen.

Responsorial Psalm PS 90:3-5A, 12-13, 14 AND 17

R. (14) Fill us with your love, O Lord, and we will sing for joy!
You turn man back to dust,
saying, “Return, O children of men.”
For a thousand years in your sight
are as yesterday, now that it is past,
or as a watch of the night.
R. Fill us with your love, O Lord, and we will sing for joy!
Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain wisdom of heart.
Return, O LORD! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
R. Fill us with your love, O Lord, and we will sing for joy!
Fill us at daybreak with your kindness,
that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days.
And may the gracious care of the LORD our God be ours;
prosper the work of our hands for us!
Prosper the work of our hands!
R. Fill us with your love, O Lord, and we will sing for joy!

Alleluia MT 24:42A, 44

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Stay awake!
For you do not know when the Son of Man will come.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 24:42-51

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Stay awake!
For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.
Be sure of this: if the master of the house
had known the hour of night when the thief was coming,
he would have stayed awake
and not let his house be broken into.
So too, you also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.

“Who, then, is the faithful and prudent servant,
whom the master has put in charge of his household
to distribute to them their food at the proper time?
Blessed is that servant whom his master on his arrival finds doing so.
Amen, I say to you, he will put him in charge of all his property.
But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is long delayed,’
and begins to beat his fellow servants,
and eat and drink with drunkards,
the servant’s master will come on an unexpected day
and at an unknown hour and will punish him severely
and assign him a place with the hypocrites,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”