Faith is in the waiting: Sunday reflection

Friedrich Wilhelm Schadow / Wikimedia Commons.

This morning’s Gospel reading is Luke 12:32–48:

Jesus said to his disciples:

“Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.

“Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks. 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. And should he come in the second or third watch and find them prepared in this way, blessed are those servants. Be sure of this: 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.”

Then Peter said, “Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?” And the Lord replied, “Who, then, is the faithful and prudent steward whom the master will put in charge of his servants to distribute the food allowance at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master on arrival finds doing so. Truly, I say to you, the master will put the servant in charge of all his property. But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, to eat and drink and get drunk, then that servant’s master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish the servant severely and assign him a place with the unfaithful. That servant who knew his master’s will but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be beaten severely; and the servant who was ignorant of his master’s will but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating shall be beaten only lightly. “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”

Does it seem that we spend a lot of our time waiting? We go to the doctor’s office, and we wait. We go to the DMV, and we wait. We call the cable company to reconnect our internet service, and we wait … and we wait … and we wait.

Yes, that example was recent.

Much of our lives are spent in anticipation on longer scales than that. We work for decades in anticipation of a hopefully long and comfortable retirement. Even during that time, we build our careers and often change them to anticipate what will make us happiest and most successful. We build families in anticipation of our offspring’s independence and their own journeys in life. Only recently have we been immersed in immediate gratification for our impulses, and it’s pretty clear that having those impulses gratified so quickly hasn’t exactly improved our overall happiness.

All during this time, we exist on faith of one kind or another — faith in ourselves, faith in our family and friends, faith on the economic and social systems in which we operate, and so on. That faith sometimes goes unrewarded, and sometimes bitterly so, but we still have to have faith in some measure to keep moving forward in life and in disciplining ourselves to the best possible outcomes as we see them.

This is especially challenging in our spiritual lives, where the need to rely on faith and discipline is greatest. In this fallen world, we only dimly see our spiritual existence; the material world blinds and deafens us most of the time to it. We lose the faith necessary to maintain our discipleship, for which discipline is required, and fall back to a sense of material reign and ignoring the Lord’s authority and love for us.

Jesus’ parables in today’s long reading addresses this directly, as do other similar parables and teachings. In both parables, Jesus stresses the need for faith in the Master in order to maintain the discipline necessary to fulfill ourselves in God’s salvation plan. In the first parable, Jesus teaches us to be servants on His watch while the Master is away, a task that takes faith that the Master will eventually return.

The second parable may be even more pointed. Again Jesus stresses the necessity of faith in the Master’s return, but He also makes a case for resisting materiality and usurpation of authority. The bad servants of this parable take the resources of the Master and consume them for their own vain gluttony rather than the good of others. They are demonstrating a lack of faith in the Master by assuming His role in Creation. Rather than steward these resources in accordance with the Master’s will — and having faith in His return — the servants take ownership of those resources and squander them entirely.

Disobedience is clearly a part of this lesson, as is self-discipline. But at the heart of both parables is the foundation of faith that molds us to the values of the Lord. That parallels how we mold ourselves in faith to the socio-economic and cultural values we embrace in order to succeed in our material existence and find happiness. That’s much more true in our spiritual lives, where faith should be complete and our foundation for embracing the Word and all the disciplines of discipleship.

It’s not easy to have faith in the waiting, however. The scriptures are full of failures in this regard, starting in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve rejected the Lord and His authority in order to take charge of the Master’s resources for themselves. The Israelites lost faith while waiting for Moses to come down from Mount Sinai. The kings of Israel abandoned the Lord’s will to create a nation of priests and prophets to proclaim salvation for the world, choosing instead temporal power and more immediate material gains. Both of Jesus’ parables today speak to all of those failures of faith.

There are also examples of enduring faith and trust in the Lord in our scriptural history as well. Paul recognized one of the most remarkable in his letter to the Hebrews for our second reading. Paul points out the endurance of faith in Abraham, even when the promise of it seemed impossible and its delivery either long in coming or well past his own lifetime. “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for,” Paul writes, “and evidence of things not seen”:

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go. By faith he sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs of the same promise; for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God. By faith he received power to generate, even though he was past the normal age — and Sarah herself was sterile — for he thought that the one who had made the promise was trustworthy. So it was that there came forth from one man, himself as good as dead, descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sands on the seashore.

All these died in faith. They did not receive what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar and acknowledged themselves to be strangers and aliens on earth, for those who speak thus show that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land from which they had come, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better homeland, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

This faith in waiting has been our journey since Adam and Eve. We are called to faith in our exile — faith that the Lord loves us, faith that He has a plan to call us back to His presence, and faith that His Word will lead us back to Him. It is that faith on which our spiritual discipleship rests, and in which we make decisions such as those in Jesus’ parables.

It is in that anticipation that we are tested. And if we are wise, it is in that anticipation in which our discipleship will be forged — if we recognize the importance of salvation and our spiritual eternity.

The front page image is “The parable of the wise and foolish virgins” by Friedrich Wilhelm Schadow, 19th century. Currently on display at the Städel Museum. 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.  

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