Reflection on the Gospel-19th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

Posted on Aug 7, 2019 in News

The
longer form of today’s gospel brings together a number of loosely connected
sayings of Jesus about trust and vigilance. Jesus addresses his disciples
affectionately as a “little flock”. He tells them that there is no need for
fear. God, their “father”, has delighted in giving them “the kin-dom” and they
are to be generous in their turn. They are to sell their material possessions
and give “alms” or, in a more accurate translation of the Greek original, they
are to use their resources to engage in “works of mercy” (eleēmosunē). Their security resides in Jesus’ assurance: “Where
your treasure (or treasury) is, there your heart will be also.” The parental
and affectionate language of the opening verses is in sharp contrast with the
violent imagery of the latter part of the gospel reading. Contrary to what some
have argued in the past, the murderous slave master who cuts recalcitrant
slaves into pieces can never be understood as a gospel image of God. In this
problematic passage, the Lukan Jesus is engaging his hearers’ experience of slavery
in order to make a point about the need for attentiveness to the demands of the
gospel. The vigilant slave is said to be “blessed” or “happy” or “privileged”.
From a contemporary perspective, it seems strange indeed to speak of a slave as
fortunate. As the story unfolds, we realise that the slave enjoys a relative
happiness in comparison with the fate of the other slaves.

The
shorter form of the gospel in 12:35-40 presents a very strange teaching that
would surely have been met with scepticism by its earliest hearers. The word picture
that Luke paints is just not credible in a first century setting where slavery
was taken for granted and where the respective roles of masters and slaves were
characterised more by extreme violence than by mutuality of any sort. The
disciples are told to be like slaves who keep vigil all night as they await the
return of their master from a wedding banquet. Their function is to open the
door when he knocks and, if they are awake enough to perform this function,
there will be an extraordinary reversal of roles: the slaves will sit down at
table while the master assumes the role of slave and serves their meal.

The
disciples are being prepared for Jesus’ announcement later in the narrative
that he is among them as one who serves. They need to understand that something
extraordinary is happening, even more extraordinary than the slave-master
banquet scenario might suggest. God’s way of being in the world is full of healing
experiences and life-enhancing surprises. The final verses of the shorter
reading shift to the image of the thief in the night. These verses are also about
vigilance, being watchful and alert so as not to be taken by surprise in the
final reckoning.