NEXT SUNDAY’S READING: NINETEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
LUKE 12: 32-48
USCCB LINK TO ALL THREE READINGS
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not be afraid any longer, little flock,
for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.
Sell your belongings and give alms.
Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out,
an inexhaustible treasure in heaven
that no thief can reach nor moth destroy.
For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.
“Gird your loins and light your lamps
and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding,
ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.
Blessed are those servants
whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.
Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself,
have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them.
And should he come in the second or third watch
and find them prepared in this way,
blessed are those servants.
Be sure of this:
if the master of the house had known the hour
when the thief was coming,
he would not have let his house be broken into.
You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect,
the Son of Man will come.”
Then Peter said,
“Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?”
And the Lord replied,
“Who, then, is the faithful and prudent steward
whom the master will put in charge of his servants
to distribute the food allowance at the proper time?
Blessed is that servant whom his master on arrival finds doing so.
Truly, I say to you, the master will put the servant
in charge of all his property.
But if that servant says to himself,
‘My master is delayed in coming,’
and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants,
to eat and drink and get drunk,
then that servant’s master will come
on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour
and will punish the servant severely
and assign him a place with the unfaithful.
That servant who knew his master’s will
but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will
shall be beaten severely;
and the servant who was ignorant of his master’s will
but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating
shall be beaten only lightly.
Much will be required of the person entrusted with much,
and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”
In my first reading of the Sunday text for today’s post, I was a bit taken back by how truly different Luke’s Gospel is from those before and after. There are a number of episodes in the Lukan narrative that appear only in this Gospel. These stand in stark contrast to such events as Jesus’ baptism, the miracle of the loaves and fishes, the ministry of John the Baptist, and of course the Last Supper and Crucifixion. There are no parallels, however, to the stories of the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, or the texts we have this weekend, which are found exclusively in St. Luke and in some way or other take their form from the inspiration of this unique evangelist.
What is the source material for the Gospels, period? The easy answer—and one that would be correct—is the historical life of Jesus of Nazareth. The earliest accounts of Jesus are not available to us in historical format. Jesus’ life and deeds were most likely passed down orally at the Eucharistic breaking of bread and the earliest preaching of Christian witnesses. There is strong sentiment among scholars that a trace of this pre-Gospel, oral tradition was the inspiration for Peter’s famous speech on Pentecost, an account written in the 80’s AD.
Thus, the earliest Gospel template might have looked something like this in its earliest oral form:
[Acts Chapter 2] 22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him…...33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear… 36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
With this sort of template, coupled with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, St. Mark crafted the first written Gospel probably before 70 A.D., and his basic outline served as the model for the three that would follow. Scholars in the last few centuries have noticed that St. Matthew and St. Luke have material in common that is not found in St. Mark, and this has led to a hypothesis about another independent “Q” source; “Q” coming from the German word for source. That said, there are Gospel texts unique to each evangelist—Matthew and Luke describe the Infancy events quite differently, for example. And many of the texts we have been reading in this summer’s series from the Lukan narrative are unique unto themselves. What can we say about Luke’s approach to writing his Gospel the way he did?
The best estimates place the time of the Gospel’s composition as around 80-85 A.D. and its place of composition the city of Antioch in Syria. Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire and certainly one of its most affluent. Given that the Church had some years under its belt by the time of Luke’s writing, the Syrian congregation took note of the fact that God had turned his favor from the Chosen People of Israel to the new children of the Kingdom. But they were astute enough to ask: if God turned his favor from Israel to Christianity, could He not do the same thing in some future time to them?
The Sunday Gospel reading is actually divided into two themes. The first paragraph is one of reassurance. Luke tells the Antiochene Church that it has “pleased the father” to give them the kingdom, and that they can trust the Father not to leave them in the lurch. The next paragraph emphasizes watchfulness, but in a remarkable demonstration of the Lord’s goodness, the parable narrates how the master, upon his return, with serve the servants, so to speak. This paragraph reinforces the first, that the master—the Father—is pleased to amaze and pleasure his subjects by a level of generosity that few, if any, could have imagined.
The final segment gives us a clue as to why the Antioch Syrians might be skittish about their commitment. It is well established in the text by now that the Master is good, but what about the stewards left in charge while the Master is away? In our tale here, they are bullies who beat the men and women servants and gorge themselves on meat and drink. When the Master does return, these abusive stewards will be severely chastised. What is the message here, and who are the wicked stewards? The Jerome Biblical Commentary (1990) makes the case that these stewards are erstwhile churchmen whose conduct has made life hard for the faithful awaiting the Master. There is certainly precedent for this interpretation in St. Paul’s earlier letters, notably 1 Corinthians. In this letter Paul chastises the Christians there for the shameful conduct of their Eucharistic meals. Wouldn’t it make sense that Paul’s corrective words would be most immediately directed to the unnamed leaders of the local church and presiders over the Eucharist?
Luke’s unique depiction of Jesus’ words and teaching combine the reassurance of God’s eternal blessings while interweaving a warning message about the need for the Church’s leaders, most of all, to live in worthiness for a place of honor in the banquet of the everlasting kingdom.