The blessings of MYOB: Sunday reflection

Ambrosius Francken. Via Wikimedia Commons.

This morning’s Gospel reading is Luke 21:25–28, 34–36:

Jesus said to his disciples:

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.

“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Pardon my absence last weekend, as my father and his wife paid us their first visit in our new home. We had a great time seeing the sights and enjoying each other’s company, as well as telling and retelling all of the old stories. It was one of the nicest early Thanksgivings I can recall.

Today’s readings put me in mind of a story about my father and me that didn’t come up. I must have been around eight or nine years old at the time when this took place, when it suddenly occurred to me to ask my Dad how much he got paid for his job. I’m not sure why now, but I suspect it might have been initiated by one of those playground arguments of long ago pitting one’s father against the other — my dad is stronger than your dad, my dad is smarter than your dad, and of course my dad makes more money than your dad. (Do kids still do this today?)

So one day I decided to research the question by asking the primary source, and … it went about as well as you’d expect. I dimly recall asking Dad the question while he was doing work on the house — he’s much handier than I am — which was usually a good time for both of us to bring up deep philosophical issues. “How much money do you make?” I recall asking.

“None of your business,” he replied after a moment, and went back to work.

So much for checking primary sources!

I learned later, of course, that such a question is considered rather rude. (I also learned you never ask a farmer/rancher how many head of cattle they have, among other such questions, for the same reason.) It’s literally none of my business and none of my concern as well, especially when it came to my parents. All I needed to know is that they were putting food on the table, clothes on my back, a roof over my head, and that they aren’t going to heat the whole darned outdoors so why don’t I learn to close doors behind me.

In case you wonder: I wasn’t raised in a barn, but the question did come up from time to time.

Anyway, my father’s point was that it was his business (and my mom’s) to know about the finances. It was my business to trust them to handle the budget and make us secure, and to respect them and follow their rules.  I wasn’t necessarily very good at my business, but lesson was clear nonetheless.

Asking such a question, especially at eight years old when I barely even comprehended money, was not just rude but also insubordinate. Did I think I could run the finances better than my parents? Did I even have any comprehension about budgets, mortgages, finance, economics? Even if Dad had told me his salary, it would have meant nothing to me. And yet in my ignorance, I figured I could use that information not for my family’s sake but (if I recall correctly) to measure my parents against others for my own selfish needs.

That recollection comes up on this first Advent Sunday and our readings today as well as over the last couple of weeks. We hear much about signs and portents, which people have used from time to time to either sincerely predict the end of the world, or more often manipulate for their own gain. Everyone anticipates the end, when the full measure of judgment will come due like a mortgage call, but no one knows when it will come.

And that’s because it’s none of our business. Two weeks ago, we heard Jesus explaining this clearly to the disciples in Mark 13:24–32: “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Even Jesus did not know when the end would come, but only that it would come, and what its nature would be. Nor did Jesus seek to find out; His business was to spread the Good News of salvation and to sacrifice Himself for all those who come to participate in that act of complete and total caritas.

So what is our business? To love and respect the Lord, follow His rules, and to trust in His salvation, just as it was my business to love, respect, and trust my parents. We are not called to usurp that role or dictate terms, but to prepare instead for the Lord’s triumph. Jesus makes this plain again today, urging disciples to “be vigilant at all times and pray” for strength to endure. Paul sends the same lesson in his first letter to the Thessalonians, from which we hear today:

May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones. Amen.

Finally, brothers and sisters, we earnestly ask and exhort you in the Lord Jesus that, as you received from us how you should conduct yourselves to please God —and as you are conducting yourselves— you do so even more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.

What we often fail to realize is what a blessing this Mind Your Own Business lesson truly is. We are not called to arrange salvation or to craft end-of-the-world logistics. Our only business is to spread the Gospel and prepare ourselves for salvation, whether it comes at the end of our natural lives or in the Apocalypse. Jesus and the prophets lay out how to prepare ourselves for the next life, and we have the Church for our formation in that effort. All we need to do is follow His rules and form ourselves, and God will take care of the rest.

Jesus will return, the Lord loves us, and we can feel secure in that knowledge. We don’t need to know anything else in terms of salvation. Except maybe to turn out the lights after we leave the room because electricity costs money, and money doesn’t grow on trees, and … well,  you know.

 

The front-page image is a detail from “Triumph des Christuskindes” by Ambrosius Francken, c. 1605-10. Via Wikimedia Commons

“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here.