Following the death of Mohammed Ali at the age of 74, tributes celebrating the life of “the boxing legend” were posted on social media; many shared a video of an interview where Ali (years back) was asked what he would do when he retires. I was particularly touched by his response. He talked about the importance of the amount of time people actually spend living their lives. Part of what he said: “…I’m 35 years old, 30 more years I’ll be 65(…) out of 30 years, I might have 16 years to be productive.” He then says the best thing he can do in the next 16 years is “GET READY TO MEET GOD”; before going on to speak about his belief in divine judgement, heaven and hell. He adds: “God wants to know how do we treat each other, how do we help each other, so I’m going to dedicate my life to using my name and popularity to helping charities, helping people, uniting people.” We are familiar with the saying, “Life begins at forty.” However, our spiritual life does not begin at forty, but commences with the very day we get incorporated into the mystical body of Christ (the Church); put differently, it commences with our baptism (being born anew by water and the Holy Spirit), thus, giving our lives to Christ, becoming sons and daughters of God, and heirs of the kingdom of heaven. Let us not waste our lives by losing out on the most important of all, which is: “friendship with God”.
Today’s reading from the Gospel according to Luke 12:32-48 is one of three eschatological discourses in the Gospel. All three of the Synoptic Gospels record Jesus’ concern for warning his disciples to keep alert, to keep watch over themselves with careful attention. Jesus’ words in this passage have two senses. In the narrower sense, the words refer to the Second Coming of Jesus, but in the broader sense, they refer to the time of our own death, when God will call us to meet Him and to give Him an account of our life on earth. Since the precise time of each is unknown to us, the proper attitude for Jesus’ followers is “constant watchfulness”. Jesus’ own words are “See that you are dressed for action and have your lamps lit. Be like men waiting for their master to return from the wedding feast, ready to open the door as soon as he comes and knocks. Happy those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes.” (Luke 12:35-37). Jesus tells us what our real treasure should be and how we may keep it safe. The treasure God offers is of far greater value and is more secure than any earthly treasure; an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy; for where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. Nevertheless, it is possible for us to lose this treasure if we do not guard it carefully. Hence, “our hearts should be fixed on the things above, not on the things on earth…” (Col.3:2) This message is addressed to all believers to encourage “wakefulness” and “preparedness”. We must be vigilant like the servant in the parable waiting for his master’s unexpected return or like the wise homeowner who was well prepared for the unexpected break-in of a thief. Since the time of our death is quite uncertain, we, too, must be ever ready to meet our Lord at any moment. Christ should find us carrying out our task of love, mercy and service; He should also find us at peace with God, ourselves and with our fellowmen.
In line with the foregoing, the First reading, (Wisdom 18, 6-9), explains this theme in a more dynamic way. The book of Wisdom was written about a century before the coming of Jesus, by a faithful, learned Jew living in cosmopolitan Alexandria in Egypt. One of his purposes was to bolster the Faith of fellow Jews living in a world indifferent, and sometimes hostile, to their beliefs. A favourite theme of the writer is how the providence of God has protected the Chosen People throughout their history, especially during the time of their enslavement in Egypt and during their Exodus to freedom and the Promised Land under Moses. The author goes over these events in great detail. Our verses today interpret Exodus chapters 11 and 12; where, while the angel of the Lord was striking down the first-born of Pharaoh and other Egyptians, the vigilant Hebrew slaves were both obediently offering grateful sacrifice to the Lord and eating the meat of the lamb to fortify themselves for their coming escape. That night was the first Passover. Consequently, when the Jews eat the Passover, they eat it in alertness and with the hope of the coming of the Messiah to free them from their difficulties and hardships. The celebration of the Passover meal with Christ gave it a different outlook. He was the promised Messiah, but the Jews did not recognize him. In Christ, the Passover meal becomes the “Holy Eucharist”. (The word “Eucharist” means “Thanksgiving.”). In the Eucharist, Christ offered himself in thanksgiving to the Father as the sacrificial lamb under the appearances of bread and wine (Matt. 26:26ff). For the early Christians, the Messiah had already come so their hope during their celebration of the Passover which is now the Eucharist was for the Second Coming of Jesus the Messiah; the coming of God’s kingdom. So, in fact, the Messiah came during the Passover but in a different way and the Jews did not recognize him; He came in the Eucharist. The Eucharistic celebration (the Christian Passover) is the fulfilment of the Jewish hopes for the coming of the Messiah, and a way of looking forward to His return in glory on the last day. Like those Jewish slaves in Egypt, we, too, have been called to cling to the Hope of a future (the coming of the kingdom); thus we are expected to be vigilant, steadfast in our faith, even when we see no signs of the fulfilment of God’s promises.
Therefore, we resort to faith, believing and trusting in the promises of the kingdom. Little wonder the author to the letter to the Hebrew addresses the importance of faith in the Second Reading (Hebrews 11:1-2,8-19). It contains an explicit definition of religious faith in the Bible: “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” Like our first reading, the Letter to the Hebrews was trying to bolster the Faith of the Jewish Christians (Hebrews), by appealing to the example of their ancestors who had believed in promises yet to be fulfilled. To bolster their Faith, the author provided a complex treatise showing that, in their new life in Christ, they were more than compensated for what they had lost. They were given the assurance that Christ’s promise for his believers exceeds the promises given to their Jewish ancestors, and this promise resides in the heavenly kingdom. Hence, we ought to be ready and vigilant, and strife harder to attain it. It is when we do this, then, we shall be chosen by God, and sing and rejoice like the Psalmist in the Responsorial Psalm of today (Ps 33:1, 12, 18-19, 20-2): “Exult, you just, in the LORD; for praise is fitting for loyal hearts. Blessed the nation whose God is the LORD, the people he has chosen for his own inheritance…”
Dearest friends in Christ, being vigilant and waiting for the coming of Christ entails doing God’s will by rendering humble service to others, by combating poverty, by ending the hatred that divides us, by establishing peace among individuals and nations, by curbing the pride that causes us to become confrontational, and by building social structures that respect the dignity of individual humans. We must wait for the Lord in our daily lives by learning to see Jesus in the least of our brothers and sisters. In other words, we must be prepared to serve Jesus in whatever form he takes. What we frequently discover in “serving” other people is that God comes to us through them.