SUNDAY 33A GLENSTAL 15TH NOVEMBER 2020
Prov: 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31: I Th 5:1-6; Mt 25: 14-30
From the late 1960s right up to the mid-1990s here in Ireland we had an annual contest for the so-called Housewife of the Year, sponsored initially by the Electricity Supply Board and latterly by a major gas-company. While never completely without its critics, the competition was, at least for some years, hugely popular. Today, its criteria for the ideal housewife are more likely to cause at least apoplexy and possibly cardiac arrest to a ‘woke’ generation both female and male.
The perfect wife as described in today’s first reading is clearly the homebody as seen not only by the Housewife of the Year contest but by Article 41 of our constitution from 1936 which tells us that, ‘the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.’
The more economically conservative among the ‘woke’ – if the designation ‘conservative’ is appropriate to such persons – may be slightly consoled by today’s gospel from St Matthew. At a first reading this passage seems to provide a sound business-attitude, not least to the banking sector. One tries to get out much more than one puts in and when things go well, then the winner takes all. The rest of you, of us, are fired, some more, some less. This is only partly a caricature, as survivors of 2008 and its aftermath, not least in recent years and days, will testify.
Last week we heard of the prudent and foolish bridesmaids and of the watchful wisdom that comes from above. Today is the second-last Sunday of the Church’s year. Through all the readings at Mass on these last Sundays before the end of the liturgical year, runs the common theme of a waiting for the last days, not only waiting for the time when the world’s time will run out, but also for the time when our own time will run out. In the now we prepare, we make ourselves ready for, the not yet.
It would be fooling ourselves to pretend that readings such as today’s first reading are not conditioned by the attitudes of the times in which they were written. But beyond the immediate context of a particular reading and the understanding of the respective roles or identities of women, and indeed men, that it portrays, there is a higher, a deeper meaning.
We are told by most biblical scholars, that parables in the gospels have always just one main point to make. Today’s parable is not about good or bad financial practice but about making good use of the gifts God has given us during the time he has given us. These gifts, certainly, may include material gifts, but more importantly, the gifts he has given us are not only life itself, but the possibility of sharing in his divine life, and of doing that sharing with our sisters and brothers, now and in eternity. God gives us much so that he can give us so much more. Grace, is indeed gift, but a gift to be grown into and not simply put away safely where it can do me or others neither harm nor good.
Returning to the first reading – and making all the necessary allowances for attitudes at the time and in the place in which it was written – one can argue that the skills, good deeds and attitudes it describes apply equally to all women and men – people who already share, through Baptism, in God’s life. Among these are: doing no harm to others; seriously working for one’s self and those for whom one is responsible; openness and generosity to the poor; both the materially and spiritually poor. And then there is wisdom. There is the expansion of the heart so beloved of St Benedict, a vision of the true and discernment of what is necessary. The capacity for life-giving worship and prayer.
And this brings us to today’s second reading from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. The fact that Paul is not really interested in what he calls ‘times and seasons’ in the sense of special feast-days or times of penance or celebration to be punctiliously observed as was the case in the society in which he lived: this lack of interest does not mean that Paul was not interested in time as such. But for Paul, the most important time is now. Paul was indeed convinced that the Lord was going to return very soon and for that reason he had, he has, no interest in the postponed life. He tells us that now is the time for making our own the life, the new life, we have been given in Jesus Christ, with all its possibilities, challenges, contradictions. This is why he urges us to stay awake, to be realistic, not to hide from the light, not to postpone our lives until it is too late by imagining that we can safely store away the gifts we have been given.
There is a kind of sleep, or even sleepwalking through life in all its aspects, that is foolish, complacent, sometimes arrogant, sometimes opinionated. There is a lazy somnolence that can overtake us like a thief and steal or fritter away the one ‘now’ we have been given with its possibility of opening out to an eternal now.
The Christians do not have to be Housewife of the Year. But the Christian can be ‘woke’. Indeed, are summed to be ‘woke’ – but to be ‘woke’ to what really matters.