Sunday, November 16, 2008

De Rekening

(33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year A; This homily was given on 16 November, 2008 at the Chapel of The American College of the Immaculate Conception in Louvain, Belgium; See Matthew 25:14-30)

I know it is still morning, and most of you have not yet eaten breakfast, but I would like to begin this homily by talking about dinner (you can see where my mind is this morning). I have been in Belgium for about five months now, and there are many things I love about the culture here. But one of my favorite things is dinner! There are some great restaurants in Belgium, and many of them right here in Leuven.

One thing that accompanies every dinner out—here in Belgium or anywhere in the world—whether you want it or not, is the check. You receive a bill for what you have eaten and the time you spent there. I love the expression they use here in Flanders: De rekening!

It sounds rather ominous, almost apocalyptic:

I hope you have enjoyed your dinner. Your meal is over.
Now here comes…
The Rekening!

We need only look at the world around us to be reminded that dinner is not the only thing that involves the “Rekening.” That word, in Dutch and in English (reckoning), means to call one to account, to come to terms with the transactions or events of the past.

The United States right now, and many European countries along with it, is experiencing an economic “Rekening.” There is a calling to account for the things that have taken place. As painful as it may be financially, in many ways it is a most natural and expected reality. We make our choices, exercise our freedom, and in the end there is always a “Rekening.”

The Church, especially in this month of November, reminds us that there is a “Rekening” in our spiritual lives, as well. In the end we are called to give an account of how we have responded to God’s gifts, His grace, and for the way we have lived in this world.

Each year, as we come to the close of the Liturgical Year and prepare to enter a whole new year at advent, we hear the Scripture passages that deal with the end of the world and the final judgment. We hear about the Second Coming of Christ and the Day of the Lord. The readings and the message they carry can be somewhat daunting.

St. Paul, in our second reading this weekend, talks about the great Day of the Lord, which will come:

Like a thief in the night. When people are saying, ‘peace and security,’ then sudden disaster comes upon them.
—1 Thessalonians 5:2, 3

It is a frightening description, to say the least. But then St. Paul switches gears. He changes the entire direction of his discourse as he addresses the believing community at Thessalonica…and us:

But you, brothers and sisters, are not in the darkness, for that day to overtake you like a thief. For all of you are children of light and of the day.
—1 Thessalonians 5:5

The “Rekening” is different for those who know Jesus Christ. It is not the same if we have responded to the grace and the gifts that God has entrusted to us. Our judgment and “Rekening” is unique. We are not waiting for a Divine Waiter, who will bring us a bill at the end of our lives. We will not stand before a stranger at the end and be forced to explain to him every errant word and action.

No, we will come before the God who knows us and loves us infinitely. We will stand before Jesus Christ, who suffered and died on the cross in love, so that we could be saved and find new life. Our “Rekening” will be intimately bound up with that personal relationship we share with the eternal Son of God. To that God we will render an account, a “Rekening,” and to Him we will answer for the words and actions and above all for how we responded to His call to holiness and faith.

St. Augustine says that God is intimior intimo meo—that He is closer, more intimate to me, than I am to myself (Book 3, Chapter 6 of The Confessions). God knows and loves me more than I know and love myself. How we understand that unfathomable mystery of His love for us is of the greatest importance, because the way we understand who God is in our lives and what the “Rekening” entails will effect the way that we live and love right here, right now. That is the point of our gospel this weekend.

Jesus tells the Parable of the Talents. The Master calls three servants before him and gives them each a certain amount of talents. Then he simply goes away. They are free to do what they wish with those talents. But, Christ continues:

After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them.
—Matthew 25:19

He came to settled accounts. That verse, in Dutch, says “en hield rekening met hen.” There was a “Rekening.” He gave them the bill! And the third servant did not fare well at all in that “Rekening.” It was an awful encounter, and he was left out in the darkness where there was wailing and grinding of teeth (Matthew 25:30).

One of the more disturbing aspects of that third servant’s encounter is the description he gives—in his final words—of the master himself. He says:

Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground.
—Matthew 25:24-25

Is that accurate? Is the master really a “demanding person”? When we listen to the entire parable we find something quite the contrary. At the outset, Jesus tells us, the master gave a different amount of talents to each:

To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one—to each according to his ability.
—Matthew 25:15

He knew these servants well! He knew just how much to give each one. By the end of the parable, moreover, we learn from the first two servants what the master’s desire had been all along. We learn the reason why he gave them the talents and what he wanted to achieve. Seeing their faithfulness and the investment they had made, he exclaims:

Well done, my good and faithful servant…Come, share your master's joy.
—Matthew 25:21&23

The master ultimately wanted them to share in his own joy. Far from being a “demanding person,” he is a master exuding benevolence and generosity, wanting them to share in the very joy of his life. To know that changes things. The two faithful servants in the gospel understood that, and that is why they were willing to take a chance and run the risk of investing the talents to make the most of what the master had given them.

Are we willing to do the same? Do we realize the tremendous love and mercy God has poured out into our lives? Are we ready to step out in faith, and run the risk of witnessing fully to our faith in the world we live in? It is risky to live our faith in a culture that does not accept the values and beliefs that we hold most dear. There is the real possibility of rejection, failure. But are we willing to risk it all anyway out of love for the one who has given us everything? The world we live in desperately needs to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Are we willing to take the risk and proclaim that message in all we say and do?

There is a beautiful and true story about a young man named William Borden. It was the turn of the 20th century, and William, one of the heirs to the Borden Family Dairy estate, had just graduated from a high school in Chicago. For his graduation present his parents gave him a trip around the world.

It was then, as he traveled throughout Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, that he saw human suffering and misery on a scale that he had never before imagined. He came back a changed man, and told his family:

“I am going to give my life to God as a missionary.”

Many of his friends and loved ones tried to talk him out of it; they told him he was wasting his life. William wouldn’t listen. Instead, he took out a cherished Bible, and on the inside cover he wrote two words:

No Reserves

Years later, he graduated with honors from Yale University. Although many things in his life had changed, his determination to be a missionary for Christ had not. To the surprise of many, he entered the seminary just as focused as ever. This time he wrote two more words in the front cover of that Bible. Under the words “No Reserves,” he wrote:

No Retreat

After completing his studies at Princeton Seminary he was finally on his way to China to become a missionary. But he had to make one stop in Egypt first, for some last minute preparations. It was there, in Egypt, tragically, that William Borden contracted spiral meningitis. He died within a month.

At the young age of 25, a life filled with promise, filled with possibilities, and filled with hope, was over…But it was far from wasted.

In the final days before he died, he had written two final words on the inside front cover of his Bible. Under the words No Reserves and No Retreat, he had written:

No Regrets

How many of us can say, at this moment, that we are following God and living our Christian lives with “no regrets”? How is God challenging us to see what William Borden saw, and to recognize the love in our lives that is so great that we are willing to risk everything to live fully and completely for God?

If we are willing to do that, to step out in faith and live our vocation—whatever God is asking of us—completely and faithfully, if we are willing to embrace the life that God has freely given to us and live by the grace He pours out upon us each day, then, please God, may we also hear those words in the parable this weekend at the end of our lives. When the “Rekening” comes for us, may we also hear the words of Jesus Christ:

Well done, my good and faithful servant…Come, share your master's joy.
—Matthew 25:21&23