Sunday, November 19, 2017

Dinner with a Perfect Savior

The Last Supper by Juan de Juanes (1510-1579)

(Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year A; This homily was given on November 19, 2017 at the Chapel of St. John in Meriden, CT.; See Matthew 25:14-30)

We are drawing close the end of the Liturgical Year, those last few weeks before we begin a new season in Advent.  Our readings, and particularly the Gospels, have been focused on the second coming of Christ.  We have heard about the coming of the Bridegroom, about wedding banquets, people entering and others being locked outside.  Traditionally, this is the time of the year when the Church meditates on the four “last things”: death, judgment, heaven and hell. Typically, those are not things that come up at the average dinner among friends . . .

Unless, of course, you live in Belgium!  That is because the Dutch word for requesting “the bill” is nothing short of apocalyptic; the word for settling accounts is: De Rekening! Yes, you have enjoyed your meal, there has been some good wine, and maybe a little dessert, but now comes . . . The Reckoning!

That word, in fact, comes up in our Gospel this morning.  Jesus, in the parable of the talents, tells us about the three servants entrusted with their master’s property.  He then says:

After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them.
—Matthew 25:19
That phrase, settled accounts with them,” in the Dutch Bible, reads “en hield rekening met hen.”  There was a “Reckoning.”  He gave them the bill!  But there is every indication in our Gospel this morning that an encounter with Christ, now and at the judgment, need not be frightening.  In fact, it could be something as enjoyable and intimate as dinner with a friend.

When I was in my first parish assignment, one of the parishioners shared a book with me that I cautiously agreed to read.   The title was, “Dinner with a Perfect Stranger,” by David Gregory, and it was a story about a cynical, skeptical businessman who receives a dinner invitation from Jesus.  Truth be told, I was skeptical about reading the book!  It sounded kind of hokey.   In fact, though, it was really well done.  At first the main character is suspicious and convinced that his friends have set him up for this mysterious encounter.  As the story continues, he discovers that this stranger knows a lot more about his life that anyone possibly could, and before long the meal becomes much more personal and revealing than he ever expected.

If we look at the parable of the talents this morning, they reveal to us three ways that an encounter with Jesus Christ at the final judgment could be as intimate as dinner with a friend who loves us.
Firstly, we discover in the parable that the Master knows these servants intimately.  Jesus says that the Master:

Called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them.  To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one—to each according to his ability.
Matthew 25:14-15  

To each according to his ability.  This is a Master who knows his servants well.   He knows their strengths and weaknesses, what they can do and what they can’t.  He gives them exactly what they need and exactly what they can handle, nothing more and nothing less.  Even so with us; God knows and loves us intimately.  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).  However deeply we known and understand our hopes, our desires, our fears, and the motivations in our lives, God knows and understands those things much more deeply.  He knows and loves us far more than we could ever think or even imagine (see Ephesians 3:20).   

Secondly, the parable of the talents reveals God’s tremendous trust in giving us the gifts of life and faith.  The Master in the parable does not micromanage the servants or give them a detailed list of how they should invest those talents.  He allows them to operate freely and with great initiative.  In fact, that becomes the undoing of the third servant, who will not use his freedom and instead buries his talent in the ground.  God wants us to be free!  He wants us to live our lives for Him and to take chances and risks for love and for relationships that will bring an increase of faith and virtue into this world.  Are we doing that?  Are we free?  Are we totally surrendered to Jesus Christ so that He can guide us in our vocation to the fruitfulness of virtue and freedom that has transformed souls and civilizations for centuries?

Finally, this weekend, we not only find in Jesus an intimate friend and one who willingly trusts us with the gifts of life and faith, but also a God who has no ulterior motives when He calls us to follow Him.  Those servants who responded with fidelity to what their Master entrusted to them discover that he has only one goal in mind: Unending joy!

Well done, my good and faithful servant.  Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities.  Come, share your master's joy.
—Matthew 25:21&23

The reason why he entrusted the talents to them in the first place, the driving force behind his incredible trust in these servants, was so that—in the end—they might share in their master’s joy.  That is all God wants for us; he does not have any other plan; there is no ulterior motive.  God simply gives us life and faith and He trusts us to use those gifts, to live fully and totally according to His will so that we can become more and more like Him here on this earth and live forever with Him in the world to come; simply to share the Master’s joy.  What a remarkable friend, indeed!

But perhaps, you might say, the dinner analogy seems to go a little too far.  Do we really think that encountering God in this life and at the final judgment could be like an intimate dinner with a friend?  We can if we understand what we are doing here this morning, and what Christ instituted on the night before He died.

Jesus Christ freely gives His life for our salvation, offering His body and blood on the altar of the cross so that we can be forgiven and enter eternal life.  But on the night before He died, he chose to make that offering and sacrifice an everlasting memorial at the Last Supper, a meal that He greatly longed to celebrate with His disciples (Luke 22:15).  At that meal, He gave us Himself in His body and blood, so that we could encounter Him here, and down through the centuries, even until the end of time.  Here in the Eucharist, Christ knows us intimately.  He inspires us and motivates us to trust in Him and to live generously for the building up of His kingdom.  Ultimately, though, He draws us—even here, even now—into His joy, giving us His very life, so that we may enter into that joy for all eternity.

The God who comes to us here is the same God who we will stand before at the end of our lives and offer an account, a “reckoning.”  To stand before God in judgment is an awesome and overwhelming reality.  We strive daily to live our lives in such a way as to be found worthy and living in His sanctifying grace when that day arrives.  But all throughout this life we are invited to this amazing dinner with a perfect Savior, this encounter with Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist.   Here in this place God gives us all we need to respond well and live generously in this world, so that we may one day share forever in our Master’s joy.