Wednesday, November 22, 2006

33rd Wednesday in Ordinary Time (II)
Memorial of Saint Cecilia, Martyr
Serving the Exacting?

Readings: Revelation 4:1-11; Psalms 150:1-6; Luke 19:11-38

What is probably the central message of our readings today is something that we all know well. There is only one proper and fitting response to God. It is the response of the twenty-four elders in the first reading, who worship God by prostrating themselves and throwing down their crowns in front of his throne. It is also the response of the good servants in Jesus’ parable, who render diligent, faithful and creative service by using wisely the money their master entrusts them. We know this. And yet, how many of us find it easy to do?

It’s difficult enough to worship God as wholeheartedly as the twenty-four elders and to serve God as selflessly as the good servants when God is seated on his throne of glory. How many of us, after all, have a natural affinity for prostration? But there’s something that perhaps makes it even more difficult. We get a hint of what this is by noticing not just what Jesus says in the gospel, but where and why he says it. Just before the parable, we are told that Jesus was near Jerusalem and (the people) imagined that the kingdom of God was going to show itself then and there. And at the end, when he had said this he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. Clearly, Jesus himself is the man of noble birth who goes to be made king. And the distant place to which he journeys is Jerusalem with all the pain and suffering that awaits him there.

Isn’t this what often makes wholehearted worship and selfless service even more difficult: that the king we are to worship and serve is the same one who expects us to carry our cross and follow him? Isn’t this the reason why Jesus sometimes seems to us an exacting man, a demanding taskmaster? Isn’t this the reason why we may find ourselves tempted to take the course of rebellion, as the king’s enemies do, or the path of apathy and fear, as the wicked servant does?

What do we need at such times, what can be done, to break through the hardness of our own hearts? Perhaps we might remember, even as we gaze upon the tortured visage of our crucified Lord, that he did this for me/ for us. We might then have a new perspective on things. Perhaps the exacting taskmaster will disappear, leaving in his place a humble and compassionate Lord, lovingly inviting us to embrace the path of life. And we might then join the heavenly hosts in proclaiming: Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God, the Almighty!

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