According to the latest studies we spend 30 percent of our lifetime asleep. Reducing this healthy statistical mean is not what the gospel has in mind, when it calls on us to stay awake and vigilant. This is about a specific point in time.
It requires focus, a concentration of attention because all of the responsibility is entrusted - to each one a task intended just for them. The matter-of-fact realistic acceptance by the individual and the necessary cooperation requires its own kind of vigilance and interest. Disinterest and negligence would signify sleeping in this case – vigil, to do the work of the absent-arriving landlord in the world together.
Jesus said to his disciples: Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: Watch!
There are life style habits – eating habits, sleeping habits, but also habits of understanding. So for generations it has been our habit to see the maxim of Christian action in the parable of the last judgment, somehow valid for every person: doing good for the needy – and thus doing good for Christ.
Whoops, a wrong viewing habit has slipped in there! An exact perusal and exegesis lead to a different interpretation. Namely? The addressees of the judge of the world’s words are “all the nations”, thus the gentiles. The needy aren’t simply the poor of the world, but Jesus’ disciples, whom the Son of Man calls “least brothers of mine”. This follows from the context of the gospel. And what does this mean? The gentiles are measured, “judged”, according to their behavior towards Jesus’ disciples, who became uncovered, vulnerable and persecuted for his sake. And Jesus’ disciples themselves and their associates, what applies to them? That is written in other parts of the gospel. bek
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.
It is a bold thought to compare the arrival of God with the intrusion of a thief. In fact, this image talks less about God than about us humans.
We tend to get frightened when God approaches and fear for our belongings. Apparently we view our life as our property. But God comes into our life – also and especially during the darkness of night – as its owner. Being sober and alert means knowing the right property relations. tac
Concerning times and seasons, brothers, you have no need for anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night. When people are saying, “Peace and security,” then sudden disaster comes upon them, like labor pains upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness, for that day to overtake you like a thief. For all of you are children of the light and children of the day. We are not of the night or of darkness. Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober.
As familiar as the parable of the ten bridesmaids is, as strange, yes, offensive is its message:
only five are admitted to the ballroom! So there must be something wrong with the image of the tolerant Jesus, who accepts everyone as he is. Perhaps something is wrong with us though, if we have more sympathy for the stupid than admiration for the foresighted. Apparently, the most important thing is overlooked: that the groom, namely God, who visits his bride Israel, even finds anyone, who will receive him. mim
Jesus told his disciples this parable: The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps. Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight, there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise ones replied, ‘No, for there may not be enough for us and you. Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.’ While they went off to buy it, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked. Afterwards the other virgins came and said, ‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’ But he said in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
… to serve …
The word “serve” seems so worn and dented in the history of Christianity that it seems best to replace it with another.
“The greatest among you must be your servant”, tastes like Sunday speeches or a sermon at the inauguration of the new bishop. Everyone can guess: he wants to determine and will have to decide. Even the so humble title “Servant of the Servants of God”, one of the many titles of the Pope, has been linked to the undisguised claim of primacy and prestige over the centuries. The Ethiopian prince Asfa Wossen-Asserate writes in a book about manners: The problem today is not so much that nobody wants to serve, but that no one wants to be a master, because it means living and acting responsibly and exemplary. The greatest, the rabbi, the teacher, the father, the mother … they do not have to make themselves small artificially. They just have to know that only one is the teacher, master, father – the one in the heavens – and they therefore bear all of the responsibility on earth, the responsibility for the world, that is: to serve. acb
Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people's shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’ As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Are words superfluous?
One of the most frequent delusions in connection with the reformation of the church is probably the assumption that people need to talk more about and get better informed about the faith. What was it like in apostolic times?
Paul, undoubtedly a man of words, tells the parish in Thessaloniki: There is nothing more to say about this – namely about the faith. Why not? Because it is visible, yes, even seizable with bare hands. The parish in Thessaloniki lives the faith in a way that is visible far and wide. They live as a community where everyone vouches for each other. One person's behavior turns the world upside down by serving the others instead of searching honor, reputation and power for himself. That's how Paul lived, following Jesus' example and the surprised ones followed his example. “Evangelization”? Everywhere, people tell each other how the parish has taken in Paul, how they follow his example of service and are of one mind with him. Indeed, there is nothing more to say about it. The facts speak for themselves. bek
Brothers and sisters: You know what sort of people we were among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit, so that you became a model for all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth not only in Macedonia and in Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything. For they themselves openly declare about us what sort of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to await his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus, who delivers us from the coming wrath.
A question of property
When someone speaks the truth openly without paying heed to the other person's reputation and position of power, they live dangerously. Politically persecuted people know that. Jesus is confronted with the question if it is allowed to pay taxes to the Roman emperor in the occupied Israel.
If he says yes, he is considered an enemy of religion, if he says no, he is considered an enemy of the state: in all cases, he is definitely going to be reported. The first part of his answer, to give the emperor what belongs to him, is a steppingstone to the second part: the request to give God what belongs to God – but: what is that? Following the convictions of Israel, it is no less than the world, the, man and especially the people belonging to him. This realization and its consequences coin Israel's whole history: The struggle for a free answer. hak
The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech. They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone's opinion, for you do not regard a person's status. Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not? Knowing their malice, Jesus said, Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax. Then they handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, Whose image is this and whose inscription? They replied, Caesar's. At that he said to them, Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.
Paul, deprived of his freedom by the power of the state, thanks his supporters in the Philippi community for the gifts he has received, which he appreciates but does not really need. Here, Paul shows an unusual anchoring in the midst of his existence.
Just as he no longer recognizes the differences between Jews and Greeks, slaves and free men, men and women as a reason for fighting and hostility among the faithful, he also leaves behind all normal categories of well-being: whether he lives in deprivation or in abundance, even elementary things like satiety or hunger are simply no longer important to him, the hunger is not even an ascetic ideal. Contented in these matters, he names what he longs for: the unanimous community. This is his strong center, his reward and wealth, his glory, and the visible splendour of God. tac
Brothers and sisters: I know how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I can do all things in him who strengthens me. Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress. My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father, glory forever and ever. Amen.
“A man laid out a vineyard ...”
With the image of the vineyard, the Old Testament prophets expressed the miracle that had come into the world with Israel: God and man work together to bring forth the fruit that “pleases man's heart”.
Criticism pointing out that actually only “sour berries” grow there, is directed towards Israel. But it also affects the Church, which rightly speaks of the “true vine”, which does not prevent a large portion of theology and practice of tasting like spoiled wine. But there are some who still have the taste on the tongue and don't give up the search for the good drop. mim
Let me now sing of my friend, my friend's song concerning his vineyard. My friend had a vineyard on a fertile hillside; he spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines; within it he built a watchtower, and hewed out a wine press. Then he looked for the crop of grapes, but what it yielded was wild grapes. Now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard: What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done? Why, when I looked for the crop of grapes, did it bring forth wild grapes? Now, I will let you know what I mean to do with my vineyard: take away its hedge, give it to grazing, break through its wall, let it be trampled! Yes, I will make it a ruin: it shall not be pruned or hoed, but overgrown with thorns and briers; I will command the clouds not to send rain upon it. The vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his cherished plant; he looked for judgment, but see, bloodshed! for justice, but hark, the outcry!
The blind spot
The blind spot is the spot in the eye on which the exit point of the optic nerve is projected. Since there are no light receptors there is a blind spot. This knowledge has moved from biology to psychology. The prophets already had this knowledge about man as early as the 6th century BC, when they mentioned Israel's ‚blind spot‘:
“You say the Lord's behaviour is not right.” Guilt is repressed and projected onto the other. Israel has the Chuzpe, to blame God – and He even accepts this dispute. In defense of his own cause, He becomes an enlightener of justice and self-righteousness, of denial and repentance. acb
Thus says the LORD: You say, The LORD's way is not fair! Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair? When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die. But if he turns from the wickedness he has committed, he does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins that he has committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.