19th Sunday Ordinary Time – 11:15 am (Fr. Smith homily)

Podcast transcript:

That young men would take up deadly force against innocent people is shocking and horrifying, but as a pattern is it all that surprising? The one common factor – other than being young and male – is that they have been loners. They are detached from society in general, but also even splinter groups of like-minded people. This is unusual in our history. Aging baby boomers like myself may remember the rash of bombings and politically motivated robberies in the 1970’s. Members of the Weather Underground or the Symbionese Liberation Army – however alienated from the general society – were at least able to join together in small groups. This seems to be no longer the case: we are dealing with people who belong to nothing. This is a more general trend in the whole society. We see attendance in churches declining, but also in civic organizations and even bowling leagues and the Boy Scouts. To rework a somewhat familiar saying, “A person who belongs to nothing will believe in anything.” As a church, we should be a home for all. St. Luke today shows us how. 

We hear that words “gird our loins and light our lamps.” This is a clear reference to the Passover and Exodus. “This is how you are to eat it: with your loins girt, sandals on your feet and your staff in hand, you shall eat like those who are in flight. It is the Passover of the LORD.” as we read in Exodus (Ex 12:11) .

The Jews believed that the Messiah would come during the Passover meal. Jesus today is telling his disciples to await His return in the same spirit. They know he will come, but not when, and as with the Jews on the Passover, they had to be ready to move immediately. Yet, note what Jesus says he will do: Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them. (Lk 12:37) 

This obviously does not happen in real life but would be understandable to the Jews who first heard it. The time of the Messiah was seen as a time of joy which demanded feasting. We read in Isaiah, “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples / A feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines” (Is 25:6). 

Luke is particularly aware of this image: he writes of Jesus’ own mission: “And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.” (Lk 13:29) 

At this meal the Messiah was, if you will, the host. Yet, there is a great change with Jesus: It is He, Jesus, the Master, who will serve them. And lest we fail to get the point, He will say at the Last Supper: 

For who is greater: the one seated at table or the one who serves? Is it not the one seated at table? I am among you as the one who serves. (Lk 22:27). 

The Messiah will act not in domination, but in service and if Jesus serves others, so must we. This is not for special or specific times but for everyone all the time. In this passage, Jesus refers to himself as a thief who comes in the night. It is unlikely that Luke would have felt he could have used the image if it did not come from Jesus’ very mouth. So it is Jesus telling us from his very mouth, his very words, that when he returns, he will look not at what we have done but who we have served. 

Peter asks here if this is just for the leaders of the church or for every member. Jesus answers with a story about the faithful steward who distributes the food allowance at the proper time. This is a reminder of Joseph of Egypt who had the responsibility of distributing rations in time of famine (Gen 41:49, 56). He is to be compared with the rich fool of last week’s Gospel, who kept the grain for himself (Luke 12:18). But with Luke, we should look not only for references to the Old Testament and other parts of the Gospel, but to the Acts of the Apostles as well. We will see there that the apostles will create a ministry – deacons – to do this (Acts 6:1-6)The need for both charity and hospitality will always be present; how it will be accomplished will change over time. 

The impediments to this will however remain constant as well. Me-too is more like all-always. There will be leaders who will forget that God will judge them on their service and abuse their positions. The higher the person’s status, the more he or she will be held accountable, but all are called to serve, and all will be judged accordingly. We are called in innumerable ways to build up the kingdom of God which before anything else means to make the church a home. 

When the master in today’s Gospel returned, he did not first check the books, or ask if any great building was constructed or any important literature produced in his absence. He simply looked to see if people took care of each other. And He told his disciples that this simple caring would be how they would be ranked. The person who acted most responsibly in fulling these simple household tasks would be the most effective leader.  

Ours is a time of great change and confusion. It has provided some people with fantastic opportunities for growth and development, but as we have seen not only with mass murders, but also with the opioid epidemic and the alarming growth of people, especially the young, who report feeling alone most of the time. We others, then, have fallen aside. This is very serious, and we may think that we need a very impressive answer, perhaps a profound theological statement or a particularly effective program. These would be wonderful, and I hope they’re produced by someone, but it probably won’t be us – I know it won’t be me. We must answer a simple question: “Have we in St. Charles Borromeo Church made a good home for people”. This is for us all, and it will also determine who are leaders really are. 

Now, in living memory that would have been a silly question. It would have been the hierarchy of the church who would find themselves addressed in this passage. For sound doctrine and actions beyond the individual community, it still is – and let us support them enthusiastically. I am very proud of our response to the call of the Diocese to support people at the border. But, for the immediate hands-on contact, it is us, and I do not need to tell anyone here that with the decline in the number of priests this needs to be heard and acted upon by more than people who wear funny collars. At the very beginning of the Church’s life, the Apostles created the diaconate to fulfill this very need. We must be open to see what will develop for us institutionally, but no matter what it will be, it is up to all of us to create a good church home.  

Our ultimate question is: “Do people feel they belong? Have they found the way to God here?” If not, it doesn’t really matter what else we do. If yes, we can find = all of us, all of us = can find the truth and, indeed, life itself.