Michael Di Gregorio, O.S.A.
Good Counsel Novitiate
Ps 33:1-2, 18-19, 20-22
Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19 or 8-12
I imagine the words of Jesus today may seem a bit heavy – especially at this time of year, when the summer heat tends to make many of us feel a little sluggish and lazy. Yet Jesus calls us to vigilance and readiness. Perhaps it’s precisely because it may be more difficult for us to hear this message now that the Church places this Gospel before us today as a reminder of what never fails to be important, namely, that we always be prepared for the Lord’s coming.
Many of us have been trained to hear these words in reference to the Lord’s final coming to us at the moment of death. And that surely is one way in which we can understand his message. In fact, this is one of the Gospel passages that is often chosen for funeral liturgies, precisely because that interpretation is so obvious. And that final encounter with the Lord can come quite unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. But notice that nowhere here does Jesus mention death or the end of the world. He speaks rather about the coming of the Son of Man, which can be understood in a variety of ways.
Intellectually, we know that the Gospel message speaks a great truth. We know that this earth is not our permanent dwelling place, but that we are travelers on a journey to another place. We know that life as we experience it now will some day come to an end. That is a part of the message we heard last weekend as well, urging us not to become so attached to this earth’s goods that we ignore the cultivation of the only goods that we can take with us. Emotionally, however, we may find it difficult to deal with all of this. There is much on this earth that is to our liking. We get used to this world. We find a level of comfort here, and there is much that brings us happiness and contentment. What is to come later is largely vague and not well-defined. We know well what we will have to give up; we’re not sure of what we will receive. We are often conditioned by society to believe that any thought of this life’s end is gloomy and morbid, not to be discussed because, after all, science may one day make even death obsolete!
The two images that Jesus uses in the Gospel, one joyful – that of the master returning from a wedding feast, and the other tragic – that of a thief coming in the night, are meant only to illustrate the element of surprise connected with the Lord’s coming. Perhaps a great part of the surprise will be precisely in confounding our fears and apprehensions. As I think of the many encounters recorded in Scripture between Jesus and all kinds of people, there does not come to mind a single instance in which anyone ran from Jesus in fear. Just the opposite is true. Jesus took away fear. People continually approached him with great confidence, bringing every kind of difficulty and problem of life. There was something about this person Jesus that won them over, drew them close to him, and replaced fear with peace.
If there is any fear connected with the coming of the Son of Man it will be so for those who have lost sight of the Jesus of the Gospels who welcomed the little children, forgave the adulterous woman and healed the lame and the blind and the deaf. If there is fear connected with the coming of the Son of Man it will be so for those who have missed his coming over and over again during their lifetimes in moments simple and profound, ordinary and exceptional. If, however, we have worked to develop a relationship with Jesus during our pilgrimage on earth, we will, indeed, be prepared for his coming again, which will remove all fear forever.