Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dominica XIX per Annum C

11 August 2019

Summer is a common time for family vacations.  Family vacations are a special time to enjoy recreation and to remember what binds us together.  One summer my family took a vacation out to the old family ranch in Montana where my Grandpa Hamilton had grown up and where my dad had spent so many summers as a child.  My grandpa, who had died years before I was born, and the Montana ranch were things I had only seen in pictures until that summer.  That trip gave me a deeper sense of the grandfather I know only in photos, and it gave me a better sense of the life of my ancestors, a life that had been transmitted to me as a descendant.

The first and second readings tell us that we are descendants, born of the faith of our fathers.  We descend from a great cloud of witnesses whose praises are sung throughout the Scriptures.  We receive an inheritance by being chosen by God as we sang in the psalm: “Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.”  The Scriptures today spend quite some time recalling our family history in the faith.  The first reading highlights the night of the Exodus when our ancestors were freed from Egypt and the second reading recounts several events in the life of Abraham, our father in faith.  Our Jewish ancestors in the faith trusted in the Word of God and put their faith in His promises, even though none of them lived to see His promises, as the second reading said: “All these died in faith.  They did not receive what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar.”  They only saw it from afar because what God promised would not be fulfilled until Christ came and established his Church to continue to make, from all nations, sons and daughters of God as numerous as the stars.  Our fathers knew the night of the Passover, but it was not until the night of the Last Supper that the full meaning of the Passover was fulfilled.  And so they only saw it from afar.

We have been made members of God’s family through Christ Jesus.  The life of faith has been transmitted to us, in part, through our ancestors.  And we gain a better sense of these witnesses of faith and what our life truly is by spending time with them in the Scriptures, in prayer, and in living the full life of Christ in his Church.  While what God has promised has been inaugurated on earth by Christ in his Church, we are still much like our ancestors in the faith in that we, too, await the complete fulfillment of what God has begun in Christ – a fulfillment that will only take place in heaven.  And the Lord Jesus teaches us in the gospel that while we await the fulfillment of God’s promises, we must be ready, we must be vigilant or else we might lose out.

The type of readiness Jesus calls us to observe is communicated in the idea of girding our loins and lighting our lamps.  These ideas harken back to the Exodus when the departure by night from Egypt needed the light of torches.  And the readiness to move with haste on that night meant typical ankle-length garments needed to be cinched up at the waist so as not to impede movement or to cause one to trip.  That is what “gird your loins” means.  The modern-day version of “gird your loins” would be something like, get your pants up over your rear!  Now I know this is an odd image in a homily and I’m truly not intending to make fun, but we all know the fashion the past many years to wear pants or shorts hanging extremely low.  My point in raising this fashion is that it is totally impractical for movement.  That’s the same idea in Jesus’ admonition to be ready with girded loins.  If you have ever watched an episode of COPS or LivePD, when the surprise of being lit up by red and blue lights catches someone off guard, the person can’t run very well with low-hanging pants.  Oddly enough this fits very well with Jesus’ point: sort of like being lit up by police lights, if we are to be ready for the surprising and unknown hour of the Son of Man’s return then we have to be ready to move, ready to respond, ready to turn to the light and to say our final “no” to the darkness of sin and the dark kingdom of the prince of this world.  Jesus says: “Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return.”

We must be ready for the Lord’s return.  We must be ready to be judged.  We must be ready for the opportunity to enter the fullness of God’s kingdom.  For the Lord will come on a day and at an hour we do not expect.  On that day the Lord will invite us to heavenly life – what the Bible describes as a rich wedding feast.  This is the feast our ancestors in the faith saw from afar and which we begin to experience even here if we participate in the Holy Eucharist, coming forward worthily after having first received forgiveness for our sins.  The promise of life with Christ in heaven must be the treasure our heart seeks.  We must live that life now and be ready to move with our loins girt, our belts cinched up.  What should we do to be ready to inherit a full place in the kingdom?  We should already be living its inauguration here and now; we should already be doing the work of a servant who awaits the master’s return.  But laziness, complacency, and living to excess, these and other things will leave us unprepared at the Lord’s return, sort of like being caught with our pants falling off our rears!  So, what kind of servants are we?  Do we already live our life in the kingdom?  Or do we consider the time we have as God’s delay, a time when we can get away with sin?  Hearing this Gospel, what kind of servants will we choose to be?  What we do now and how we live now will determine whether we are assigned a place with the faithful or the unfaithful.  Jesus says, “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.”