The Bible, the Word of God set down in our scriptures, talks about us as much as it talks about God; and so too does Jesus, who we say is the “Word of God” made flesh, made a human being.
That makes sense: the Bible is about our relationship with and to God; it’s not a school text or a rule book or a dictionary or an encyclopedia—it’s a collection of all different kinds of writing: poems, short stories, myths, history, philosophy, biography, proverbs and preaching, all trying to describe that relationship we have with God; when its good, but also when its bad; and how to fix it when it goes bad.
Jesus as the Word made human makes sense: he comes to talk to us about our relationship with God and to teach us how to make it a good one by example, preaching, instruction, healing; he casts out bad spirits. By his life and death and resurrection, he makes it possible for us to fix this relationship when it goes bad.
And when the Bible talks about us, and Jesus talks about us, we see and hear different metaphors and images and comparisons of us to other things—all different ways of helping us understand that relationship.
We’re sheep, for example. Jesus calls those who follow him disciples; that is “students” or “learners.” At one point in the gospels he likens those who follow him to little baby chicks that he wants to protect like a mother hen. Toward the end of the gospel of John, his long-time disciples, those who’ve really shown a commitment to him, and are starting to understand what he is saying, he calls them “friends.” Elsewhere in the New Testament, those who believe in Jesus are described as “sons and daughters” of God, through adoption. All of us together, the Church of the faithful, we are the “body of Christ.”
In today’s gospel, human beings are like slaves who are tested by their master; and in the first reading we listened to the description of the perfect wife; and we should remember that we as the Church are often referred to in God’s Word, as the Bride of Christ.
All of this is aimed at getting us to understand what the relationship is when we are simply human beings in the world who really don’t know God, how it is when we begin to truly serve God; who we are when we grow devoted to doing what is good and right in God’s eyes. We move from being sheep, to being slaves, to being students, to being friends, and to being as close to God as a husband and wife; or rather how a husband and wife should be.
Last week when I spoke about the first communion celebrations happening in the parish, I compared Christian life to hockey; the eucharistic host the hockey puck that was indispensable to playing the game, but in no way is the whole of the game; that as in hockey we needed to learn the game, be coached, practice, and play better and better with every game; in our lives of faith we need certain things that you simply can’t do without: the eucharist, the body and blood of our Lord is essential; living without it is as sensible as trying play hockey without a puck. We need to be taught, then coached, then practices, then put into real games, that is we need to learn our faith, take the advice of priests, spiritual directors, and others who’ve shown their great faith and understanding of that faith; we need to practice our faith in regular prayer, fasting, service to others; and we need to live our everyday lives with all the challenges that come, the tragedies and the triumphs, taking opportunities and dealing with bad situations all with our faith guiding us.
We are the slaves of Jesus’ parable today.
It’s a metaphor for human life. Like slaves, our lives are really beyond our control in many ways; we are born in Canada, or in Somalia or in mainland China, or Hawaii, and so on. We can be fortunate in our birth, our basic situation, within a society formed by the gospel and therefore somewhat kind and given to compassion, or in a place that is ruthless, unmerciful.
We differ in what we are given by God to use in these circumstances. One slave is given five pieces of silver, another two, and another just one. Hey, some of us are really intelligent, good at math, have artistic talent; I struggled with math at school, and I can’t draw a straight line. Some of us are handsome, pretty, beautiful; and some of us are plainer in appearance; and we don’t get the same attention as say the beautiful celebrities we see. Some of us are born to rich parents, others to hard-working people who with great effort provide for us; and sometimes we have loving parents, and sometimes, sadly we don’t.
God asks us, nonetheless, to do something with our lives. And as Jesus says in the gospel, to those who much has been given, much is expected, but to those who have little, there is no exception made. Your expected to do something. The slave with just one piece of silver, he went and buried it! And the master was angry with him.
Look, I think a lot of us are inclined to think we just gone one lousy coin. Some of us may be willing to admit that, well, maybe I got three. I’m inclined to think most of us, especially Canadians, in some sense are given a sack-full. I look around the world and I know I’ve been given more than a lot of people.
But what is it that I am supposed to do with these talents, this little bit of treasure that the master has given me?
I fear today that too many of us reduce our understanding of Christian life to acts of charity, to volunteering at a soup kitchen, to contributing to the food bank, to giving money to missionaries doing good work overseas.
That’s certainly an important part of our lives: to offer our time, talent and treasure to others, to our community of faith, and to the larger world to make it a better place, all as a sacrifice for the sake of the glory of God.
However, it’s clear from the way the Bible, and the way Jesus talks about us that we are meant to change as people, and not just in generosity, but in holiness; to grow from being ignorant of God to being close to God, to be always aware of Him. Now that is not in the sense of being aware of Him in a fearful way, like being watched like your in detention, like you’ve been sent to the corner of the classroom for bad behaviour, but rather that He is with you, and a part of you, like a husband and wife, ideally are to be. And that means developing more than our generosity.
If we look at the qualities of the good wife that the scripture lists, we can see in them all the virtues we all should have as a Church, as a community of faith and as individuals who claim membership in the Church.
Yes, the good wife “opens her hand to the poor and reaches out to the needy.” But listen also to the other qualities that we should be seeking to make fully our own:
We should be trustworthy, that is, what God has given us in his commandments, in his moral law, we should be trusted to keep those commandments; in his mandate to care for others, we should be trusted that being asked to this, we do it. This is exactly how the good slave of the parable is described, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave…”
We should be careful to do only good and no harm; and as I’ve said on other occasions, it’s not for us to decide that because I feel good about something, in must be good, or to follow the advice of the world in terms of what is good. A great many of the things government has done in the name of helping people, the poor in particular, often doesn’t help them at all, but makes things worse. So too, what we think is helping can be hurting. We must be discerning, and prayerful in our actions.
We are to be productive, useful, like the wife who seeks wool and flax and works it into cloth, and is willing to do it. We shouldn’t be lazy, physically, or spiritually. We need to work, and to pray to be fully and properly human.
We are to be prudent and a good manager of what God has given us: like the wife who considers a field and buys it. She knows a good deal when she sees it, and enters into it because it will benefit her husband and the whole household by increasing the wealth of her family. So too this parish must be managed so as to increase its wealth, its spiritual wealth by bringing more people to Christ, and by nurturing the faith they have found.
It’s interesting to note that a good wife is not necessarily charming or beautiful. And I would take that to mean in a superficial sense. The Church, this parish, it certainly can be charming from time to time, inviting and cordial, but it has to be genuine, authentic, real in its faith and in its service. If all we are is charming, appealing at first glance, from a distance attractive, on first impression good, but with time, and close contact found to be empty of virtue, then we are deceitful and not the faithful spouse of our Lord. If we are merely beautiful, and isn’t this place beautiful, then we are of little use but as something to look at; but that doesn’t last long. Like dating a pretty girl or handsome boy thinking that beyond their good looks there is even greater goodness in their character only to find them vain, concerned only with their appearance. Well, I’m sure the adults here may have had that experience: there was no second date.
However, if as I have found, the beauty of this place and the care that people have for it is an expression of their devotion to God and their greater care for His creation, and His people, then yes, the beauty of this place entices the visitor to stay, and then they find even greater unseen beauty in the souls of those who make St. Augustine’s their spiritual home; and then, they want this to be their home too; and so, altogether enter in to the joy of our master, Jesus Christ.