Sunday, August 12, 2007

Vigilance and the Divine Thief

(19th Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year C; This homily was given 11 & 12 August, 2007, at St. Mary's Church, Cranston, R.I.; read Wisdom 18:6-9 and Luke 12:35-40)

Our readings for this weekend are about vigilance: what it means to be ready, watchful, prepared for the coming of God into our lives.

The first reading, from the Book of Wisdom, tells the story of the People of Israel on the eve of the Passover. They had been enslaved in the land of Egypt, suffering hardship and oppression while all hope seemed lost.

In a single night God changed all that; he came suddenly and delivered them. He brought them salvation and set them on the road to the Promised Land.

But that same night was devastating for the people of Egypt. The Angel of Death came through that country and claimed the firstborn of the Egyptians. They never saw it coming.

Not so for the nation of Israel. Today’s reading tells us how they were ready:

For in secret the holy children of the good were offering sacrifice and putting into effect with one accord the divine institution.
—Wisdom 18:9

They had listened the instructions God had given to His servant Moses. They had offered the sacrifice of the lamb, sharing that meal that united them as one people. They had sprinkled the blood of the lamb on the doorposts and gathered together with loins girt, staff in hand, sandals on their feet. They were ready. When God began to move in the land of Egypt, they were ready.

In our Gospel today, Jesus tells us, in the same way, to be ready:

Be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.
—Luke 12:36

And what is Christ calling us to be ready for? His second coming. We believe—in fact, we profess and announce each week in our Creed—that Jesus Christ is coming back again. That may happen in our lifetime; we don’t know.

But we are also ready for that moment when our lives will end, and we will meet Christ face to face. That is also a moment that will come for every one of us. And all of the moments between now and that day, all the many ways that Christ comes into our lives each day. We are called to be vigilant, watchful, ready.

To accent our need to be vigilant, Christ uses a surprising image: that of the thief. He says:

If the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of man will come.
—Luke 12:39

Almost always in the Scriptures, and in our own everyday experience, the thief has negative connotations. Oddly, and effectively, Christ uses it here in reference to Himself. His point is that we must be ready at every moment, for we do not know when He will come.

Several years ago, while I was still working for Stop & Shop Supermarket Company, I bought a nice new pick-up truck. It was one of those 4-wheel drive sport models, fully loaded. Each day I could hardly wait to get out of work, to go and drive it. One day I went out to do just that and there was an empty parking spot where my truck used to be!

After three days they found it, or at least what was left of it. It had been stripped of everything, and “The Club” anti theft device that was on the steering wheel had been placed back into the truck, where the seats would have been. This happened in broad daylight, with the police station right across the street! It caught me completely of guard; I never saw it coming. That is what Jesus is trying to say to us this weekend. Be ready!

But the analogy Christ uses, like all analogies, only goes so far. Usually, with a thief, our guard is up. We want to lock the doors and put the alarm on (or get something a little more effective than “The Club”). But not with this Thief! Jesus is the Divine Thief that we want to have in our lives. We want Him in our homes, in our cars, in our families and workplaces.

When it comes to Jesus, the Divine Thief, we need to unlock the doors, turn off alarms, open all the windows, and even break down walls if necessary. We need to let Him in! How do we do that?

First and foremost, we do it through prayer. We keep vigilant by watching for Christ each and every day in prayer. Do we spend time alone each day with God in silence and in prayer? The more vigilant we are to daily prayer, the more prepared we will be to meet Christ when He comes to us each day in our lives…and at the end of them. We let in the Divine Thief through prayer.

Secondly, we allow Christ to "break in" through lives of repentance. We all have places in our lives where we strive to, as we say each Lent, “turn from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” But if there are any sins that we have left un-confessed or areas of impenitence in our lives, not even the Divine Thief can find His way in.

We need to take down those walls through repentance. If there are serious sins, we need to receive the grace God so willingly gives us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Repentance lets in the Divine Thief and allows Him to carry us ever closer to eternal life.

Finally, we let in the Divine Thief through what we are doing here this morning: opening the door to His presence in our lives in the Eucharist. Our first reading spoke about the people of Israel, who were “offering sacrifice and putting into effect … the divine institution (Wisdom 18:9)”. It was a reference to the Passover Meal.

This Eucharist is the fulfillment of that Passover Meal. It is here that we celebrate the Lamb of God, whose sacrifice on the altar of the cross and whose sprinkled blood won for us the forgiveness of sins and opened up for us the way to Heaven. Here at this Supper, we are most vigilant, most open, most ready to receive our Lord.

As Christ tells us in St. Luke’s Gospel this weekend, regarding those who are ready for His coming:

He will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them.
—Luke 12:37

Christ, the Divine Thief, comes to us here to wait upon us, and to serve us with the Bread of Life, His own Body and His own Blood. Are we ready for that meal? Are we ready for that “divine institution?”