Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31
1 Thessalonians 5:1-6
What is the purpose of the Christian life? Or, to ask the question in a simpler way, what’s the point of all this?
As the Church Year comes to an end, this essential question is brought into sharp focus. The answer is as simple as it might be unpopular: we’re waiting for the fulfillment of time and of hope-filled promises of an untold future. We are awaiting the return of Christ. I would go so far as to say that if we’re not watching and waiting in hopeful expectation, then something vital is missing from our individual faith.
In all honesty, many of us are uncomfortable with talk of Heaven and hell, death and judgment. And, while the naïve concepts of heaven’s “streets paved with gold” and hell’s “fire” shape the lives of some believers, we also know that these simplistic Sunday school images aren’t what we are about as Christians. They certainly aren’t enough to build a way of life around. We must be careful that we don’t allow our end-of-time imagination to overshadow the truth of God’s Reign.
Despite our discomfort, these themes are woven throughout the Church’s prayer and Scripture readings during these final weeks of the liturgical year. And yet, for those of us in the United States, late November is the time of Thanksgiving and the start of the pre-Christmas rush. This makes the prospect of a coming judgment and the notions of watching and being prepared an unwelcome prospect. But to deny or ignore this judgment and the promise of the fullness of God’s Reign is to deny that our faith has an end and a goal. It amounts to saying that what we experience in every moment of our life doesn’t have any greater meaning or value and that humanity and all the rest of creation is simply adrift and without purpose or destiny. But we do have a purpose and destiny: union with God and one another in the reign of Christ. As the Jesuit priest, philosopher, and scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once wrote, “Remain true to yourself, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love! At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge.”
This Sunday’s reading of the “Parable of the Talents” (Matthew 25:14-30) offers us important insights into what our expectant waiting should be like. In the parable, a wealthy man gives talanton to his servants according to their ability.” One “talent” was worth 6,000 days – or 16 years – wages. The servants with five and two talents succeeded in doubling their master’s money; the servant with the single talent buried it in the ground to avoid the risk of losing it. The master in the parable rewards the first and second servants, but the third servant who buried the money out of fear was condemned as being “wicked and lazy” and thrown “into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
While there might be some who would use this passage from the Gospel as an opportunity to reflect on economic inequality (after all, it is an absurd story about a corrupt system), we can’t ignore that the Church has chosen this text at the end of the year and paired it with a passage from Proverbs which praises the productive activity of the God-fearing woman (31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31). She stands in stark contrast to the timid servant of the Gospel who was so frightened of failure that he chose not to act at all.
The point of these two texts is that we are supposed to use the time we have to do something. We not only have to foster and develop the unique gifts that have been entrusted to each of us, we must also allow those gifts to enrich the world around us. Each day is itself a gift and, if we are truly living for the future, then we have an obligation to make the most of today. But these last days of the Church year should also inspire us to act with urgency because, as Paul reminded the Thessalonians, the Lord will return “as a thief in the night.” We will hear the same theme repeated in Advent, as we watch and wait for the coming of Christ in the celebration of his birth in history, in his presence among us today in mystery, and in his final coming in majesty
Br. Silas Henderson, SDS
God of righteousness,
you overcome those who abuse their power
and lift up those who suffer.
Even now, when evil seems to hold sway,
we know that you will have the last word.
Keep us faithful as we wait and watch for your coming realm,
when you will welcome all your children
into your kingdom of justice, peace, and love.
—A prayer for the end of the Church Year +
(from Feasting on the Word: Liturgies for Year A, volume 2)