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WATCHFULNESS AND FAITHFULNESS

Read­ing Time: 9 minutes

 

19th Sunday of the year [C] – August 7, 2016

(Ref. Text: Luke 12:32–48)

Introductory Words

After present­ing his con­vin­cing and theo­lo­gic­ally foun­ded argu­ment in defence of his stand that life’s worth does not con­sist in the abund­ance of one’s mater­i­al pos­ses­sion, Jesus invites his dis­ciples not to pre­oc­cupy them­selves with the things of the world. They should neither worry for life, for what to eat, for what to drink, what to wear nor for life itself because God, the abso­lute pro­pri­et­or of life knows how to provide these things and how to take prop­er care of life too. Atten­tion! This is not a call to lazi­ness. It is dis­heart­en­ing how some people espe­cially in Niger­ia lock their shops, teach­ers who aban­don their pupil in the classrooms and work­ers who absent from their duties all in the name of pray­er. More wor­ri­some is the fact that these things hap­pen on nor­mal work­days. When Jesus in Mat­thew 6:34 says we should not think or worry about tomor­row since tomor­row will take care of itself, it does not mean we should not have plans for tomor­row. Jesus made such state­ment due to the last phrase of that same verse. Jesus advised people not to begin today to worry about tomor­row because today’s troubles are enough for today. This is a ser­i­ous psy­cho­lo­gic­al advice. People should learn to lim­it their wor­ries to each day. If to today’s wor­ries you add that of tomor­row, you know the con­sequence. Both Luke 12:22–30, Mat­thew 6:34 and even Psalm 23 are not invit­a­tions to idle­ness and lazi­ness. They are calls to seek first the king­dom of God so that every oth­er thing will be easi­er to obtain (cf. Luke 12:31). There­fore, if we should worry, our worry should be how to gain God’s king­dom and not how to gain mater­i­al wealth. This Sunday’s read­ings espe­cially the Gos­pel are built on these words.

God Disposes His Kingdom

After the psy­cho­lo­gic­al pre­par­a­tions, Jesus draws his dis­ciples’ atten­tion to the theme of last Sunday – the eph­em­er­al­ity of mater­i­al riches. As if frightened, alarmed and threatened (cf. do not fear in v.32) by the fate of the rich farm­er in Luke 12:13–21, Jesus assured his dis­ciples that it is not God’s inten­tion hide or with­hold his king­dom from them. Such assur­ance is expressed in these words “do not be afraid, little flock, for your Fath­er is well pleased to give you the king­dom” (Luke 12:32). Yes, God is always ready to open the king­dom but that is not without con­di­tion. The con­clu­sion of the epis­ode of the rich farm­er that what happened to him is the same fate that awaits those who enrich them­selves with mater­i­al things, but who do not enrich them­selves towards God (cf. Luke 12:21), shows the king­dom was not opened for him. For God to open his king­dom to any­one, there are terms and con­di­tions that must be stud­ied attent­ively, and must as well be accep­ted and respec­ted. It is not the respons­ib­il­ity of any­one to set such con­di­tions. They are con­tained in the invit­a­tion to “sell your pos­ses­sions and give alms” (Luke 12:33). Who­ever wishes to inher­it the king­dom should not store his or her wealth. Rather, he or she should sell them and dis­trib­ute the pro­ceeds to the needy. This is the sense of sell your belong­ings and give alms. Alms implies the needy, the less priv­ileged of the soci­ety and of every fam­ily and com­munity. The com­mand to give alms should not be lim­ited to mater­i­al assist­ance alone. It is a gen­er­al instruc­tion with vari­ous branches. Again, it should be linked to the rest of the passage.

The Key to God’s Kingdom

As I explained above, the king­dom of God has terms and con­di­tions. To the law­yer who wanted to find out from Jesus what he must do to inher­it etern­al life, Jesus presen­ted the example of the man who became vic­tim of brig­ands who left him almost dead. At the con­clu­sion of that story, Jesus invited the law­yer to go and fol­low the example of the Samar­it­an who proved a good neigh­bour to the wounded man (cf. Luke 10:25–37). In Luke 10:38–42, Jesus reminded Martha that her worry for too many things espe­cially, the worry for mater­i­al sat­is­fac­tion is a ser­i­ous obstacle to etern­al life. With the story of the rich farm­er in Luke 12:13–21, Jesus showed the dis­ciples how greed in its diverse forms could deprive people of etern­al hap­pi­ness. Greed­i­ness in fact, does not allow people to be rich towards God. Again, in Luke 18:18–30, we find the epis­ode of a young man who wanted to find out from Jesus what he must do to inher­it etern­al life. After everything and espe­cially, after his con­fid­ence in prov­ing his observ­ance of the Torah since his youth, Jesus asked him to go, sell all his pos­ses­sions, dis­trib­ute the pro­ceeds to the poor, then come and become his dis­ciples, this way, he will inher­it etern­al life. The con­clu­sion of that story is that this young man went away sor­row­ful because he was very rich. Like Pil­ate, he pre­ferred his worldly pleas­ure and glory to etern­al life. Many Chris­ti­ans are still vic­tims of this defect.

To save the dis­ciples from the danger of excess­ive atten­tion and uncon­trol­lable attach­ment to mater­i­al pos­ses­sion, Jesus invites his dis­ciples and all believ­ers to dis­pose of their mater­i­al belong­ings. In con­trast to the world’s pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with mater­i­al pos­ses­sions, the dis­ciples and believ­ers are to be char­ac­ter­ized by exceed­ingly great gen­er­os­ity, espe­cially in giv­ing to those in need (lit­er­ally, to give alms). The invit­a­tion to give alms should attract our atten­tion. It is an indic­a­tion of neg­li­gence, lack of love and care, abuse, oppres­sion and injustice. Take for instance Niger­ia, where only 20–25 per­cent of the entire pop­u­la­tion enjoy the wealth of the nation. In such cir­cum­stance, it is clear that the poor or the needy masses will have to depend on these super rich for sur­viv­al, a situ­ation that breeds cor­rup­tion, oppres­sion and injustice. In such con­text, Jesus’ invit­a­tion to sell all and give alms should be inter­preted as resti­tu­tion. Yes, the rich should return the com­mon good, which they have arrog­antly usurped, mak­ing them­selves Gods to be wor­shipped by the ignor­ant and needy masses. Sim­il­arly, those who have denied oth­ers justice, truth, what is due to them, must give alms by return­ing what they have stolen.

By selling all and giv­ing alms, the dis­ciples will provide them­selves purses that do not wear out, a treas­ure in heav­en that will nev­er decrease, where they can neither be stolen, nor des­troyed (cf. Luke 12:33b). This is the mean­ing of the meta­phor “money­bags that do not grow old” in Luke 12:33. Since a person’s heart is nat­ur­ally attrac­ted by his or her pos­ses­sions (spir­itu­al or mater­i­al), inclined and resides where his or her treas­ures are, the dis­ciples must ensure they pos­sess spir­itu­al treas­ures and store them in the heav­enly barn so that their hearts will also be there (cf. Luke 12:34). This way, they would have cor­rec­ted the errors of the young man who wanted to share his treas­ures with his broth­er, and that of the rich farm­er who wanted to store his wealth in earthly barn (cf. Luke 12:13–21), and the young man who pre­ferred his mater­i­al wealth to etern­al life (cf. Luke 18:18–30). This is the key to the king­dom, which it has pleased God to give them. The nature of a person’s heart is reflec­ted in the things that one val­ues most. Fur­ther­more, by stor­ing their treas­ures in heav­en, they would have suc­ceeded in seek­ing first the king­dom of God, the found­a­tion to gain everything.

Watchfulness

Unless the dis­ciples ful­fil the terms and con­di­tions lis­ted above, they can nev­er be watch­ful. And by not being watch­ful, they risk remain­ing out­side the king­dom. In Luke 12:35–40, Jesus dis­tin­guishes between the watch­ful and the unwatch­ful ser­vant. Nat­ur­ally, he expects dis­ciples to be among the watch­ful ser­vants. The anec­dote employed by Jesus is for the dis­ciples to avoid oculum ser­vi­entes. In his advice to slaves, Paul implored them to avoid eye ser­vice with the fol­low­ing words “non ad oculum ser­vi­entes quasi hom­inibus pla­cen­tes sed ut servi Christi facientes vol­un­t­atem Dei ex animo, cum bona vol­un­t­ate ser­vi­entes sicut Dom­ino et non hom­inibus” (Eph 6:6–7). In like man­ner, dis­ciples should live their reli­gious life object­ively instead of seek­ing to please someone for some favour, an atti­tude that breeds cor­rup­tion, hypo­crisy and superficiality.

Reflecting on Luke 12:41

After listen­ing to Jesus’ teach­ings con­cern­ing the king­dom of God and the key to pos­sess­ing it, Peter wanted to find out from Jesus if his words were addressed to them, the dis­ciples alone or to all (the dis­ciples and the crowd). What exactly do Peter mean by this inter­rog­a­tion? In Luke 12:1, when the great mul­ti­tude of people (Greek: ochlos) gathered around him, Jesus ignored them and addressed his dis­ciples (Greek: math­ētes) first. In Luke 12:4, Jesus said to his friends. One might ask who are these friends? Mat­thew 10:28–31 (espe­cially vv. 1 and 5) shows these friends are still the dis­ciples (also Twelve dis­ciples). Luke 12:11 also shows Jesus is still address­ing the same dis­ciples as in verse 1. In Luke 12:13–21, Jesus addressed the ochlos. Cer­tainly, the dis­ciples were also listen­ing. Then, from Luke 12:22, Jesus con­tin­ued address­ing his math­ētes. In Luke 12:54, he turned to the ochlos again. Does it mean Peter was not fol­low­ing this change of audi­ence? Prob­ably, he was dis­trac­ted, con­fused or thought this is too much for the dis­ciples alone. The same way some people espe­cially Chris­ti­an lead­ers think the words of the Gos­pel are not for them. But how did Jesus react?

Faithfulness

Jesus must have inter­preted Peter’s ques­tion in verse 41 as dis­trac­tion. Hence, he ignored it and con­tin­ued his teach­ing. We should learn to ignore dis­trac­tions in our life and in our mis­sion. On the oth­er hand, the ques­tion might be giv­en a theo­lo­gic­al inter­pret­a­tion whereby it serves as a link for what fol­lows next. And that which fol­lows is a dis­tinc­tion and reflec­tion on the faith­ful and/or unfaith­ful steward/administrator. Ignor­ing Peter’s (theo­lo­gic­al) inter­rup­tion, Jesus con­tin­ued with and inter­rog­a­tion: who then is the faith­ful and wise servant/manager to whom the mas­ter entrusts the admin­is­tra­tion of his house­hold? With the explan­a­tions that fol­low in verses 43–48, Jesus answers the ques­tion and dis­tin­guishes between the fate of faith­ful and unfaith­ful admin­is­trat­ors. The con­clud­ing words in verse 48 is meant to recall the dis­ciples’ atten­tion that much have been entrus­ted unto them, and much is expec­ted from them. Con­sequently, they have no option than to strive to be faith­ful and wise admin­is­trat­ors and so, win the approv­al and bless­ing of their master.

The ques­tion “who then is the faith­ful and wise admin­is­trat­or” requires fur­ther cla­ri­fic­a­tions. The words faith­ful, wise and admin­is­trat­or are fun­da­ment­al to an adequate com­pre­hen­sion of the theo­lo­gic­al sig­ni­fic­ance of Jesus’ words. The Greek terms for faith­ful, wise and admin­is­trat­or are pis­tos, phron­i­m­os and oikonomos. In the bib­lic­al sense, faith (pis­tos) is not some­thing abstract as most Chris­ti­ans think. Faith is and should be dynam­ic. It is a prac­tic­al atti­tude towards God and towards human beings. John explains this bet­ter in his Gos­pel. And James teaches that faith without work is dead (cf. Jas 2:20.26, read espe­cially verses 14–26), and we know that death sig­ni­fies inactiv­ity. To have faith is to be trust­worthy, trust­ful, sure, true. A faith­ful ser­vant there­fore, is he or she who could be trus­ted, trust­ful, sure and true in his or her oper­a­tions, who is prac­tic­al and who is always act­ive in the admin­is­tra­tion of his or her master’s household.

Besides being faith­ful, Jesus desires that stew­ards be wise too. In addi­tion to pis­tos, Jesus uses phron­i­m­os for the wise ser­vant. The same term used in Luke 16:1–13 con­cern­ing the sacked admin­is­trat­or. In ref­er­ence to the qual­ity of a person’s think­ing res­ult­ing from insight, the Greek word phron­i­m­os means wise, intel­li­gent, sens­ible, thought­ful, prudent, as opposed to aphrōnfool­ish, sense­less, stu­pid. In Luke 12:20, God described the rich farm­er as aphrōn. To the fool­ish­ness of the rich farm­er, Jesus con­tra­poses the phron­i­m­os of a faith­ful stew­ard, which the dis­ciples and all believ­ers are expec­ted to be. Hav­ing seen where the fool­ish­ness of the rich farm­er led him, Jesus expects the dis­ciples to be both faith­ful and wise. Atten­tion! The wis­dom required of dis­ciples is not fool­ish wis­dom that makes a per­son unac­cept­able to God (cf. Matt 11:25).

The next word used by Jesus, which mer­its atten­tion, is ser­vant. The Greek term gen­er­ally rendered as ser­vant is oikonomos. Lit­er­ally, an oikonomos is a per­son put in charge of a house­hold or estate, hence, a stew­ard, man­ager. The same term is also used to refer to a com­munity offi­cial in charge of pub­lic funds and prop­er­ties, hence, treas­urer, over­seer (cf. Rom 16:23). Fig­ur­at­ively, an oikonomos is one entrus­ted with spir­itu­al author­ity and admin­is­tra­tion, hence, stew­ard, admin­is­trat­or (cf. 1Cor 4:1). In this sense, the priest is also an oikonomos – a ser­vant. The office of the oikonomos is very demand­ing. It requires matur­ity, respons­ib­il­ity, faith­ful­ness, wis­dom, objectiv­ity, obed­i­ence and commitment.

Concluding Words

As ser­vants and spir­itu­al admin­is­trat­ors, the dis­ciples must be faith­ful and wise. Sim­il­arly, same is expec­ted of reli­gious lead­ers, Chris­ti­ans and even politi­cians and every oth­er per­son entrus­ted with any pub­lic func­tion. It is left for each per­son to exam­ine him­self or her­self and see if he or she has been faith­ful and wise in car­ry­ing out the respons­ib­il­ity entrus­ted to him or her. Fur­ther­more, reli­gious lead­ers should do ser­i­ous exam­in­a­tion of con­science and see if they are faith­ful and wise and if they have been wise and faith­ful in the admin­is­tra­tion of their respons­ib­il­it­ies. The faith­ful and wise stew­ard is the per­son who faith­fully, wisely and fairly cares for those for whom he is respons­ible, giv­ing them their por­tion of mater­i­al or spir­itu­al needs at the prop­er time, and without con­di­tion (cf. Matt 10:8b). Both faith­ful and unfaith­ful ser­vants will be rewar­ded adequately (cf. Luke 12:43–46).

While the faith­ful ser­vant will be rewar­ded by the mas­ter by put­ting him or her in-charge of all his pos­ses­sions, the unfaith­ful ser­vant will also be rewar­ded by being cut into pieces (cf. Jer 34:18) and placed with oth­er unfaith­ful ser­vants. It is for each ser­vant to make his or her choice. Whichever choice you make, bear in mind that people who have been entrus­ted with many abil­it­ies and respons­ib­il­it­ies will be held to a high­er stand­ard on the last day (cf. Matt 25:29; Mark 4:24–25). To stay dressed for action (cf. Luke 12:35), is an invit­a­tion to be watch­ful, faith­ful, wise, hon­est, just and com­mit­ted. God’s faith­ful­ness is not debated. What is under ser­i­ous dis­cus­sion is our own faith­ful­ness. Think about it. Wel­come to the month of August and remain blessed! Sha­lom!

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