Father Donald Senior, CP

Staying awake

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Perspectives on Scripture

Aug. 7: 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wis 18:6-9; Heb 11:1-2, 8-19; Lk 12:32-46

Jim was a brother in our community who had served in the Air Force as a sentry. He was assigned to guard the perimeter of an airbase in a remote part of Maine and his companion was a trained guard dog.

He told me that on several occasions in the pitch darkness of night his dog would stiffen in alert, but only after a few minutes would Jim himself see the headlights of a car approaching the base in the far distance. The alertness of the guard dog was remarkable.

Strange as it may sound, this example popped into my head as I studied the readings for this Sunday. The parable embedded in today’s Gospel is the key.

Jesus tells his disciples about servants who are alert and ready when their master returns from a wedding. The word Jesus uses is the Greek term, gregorein, which literally means to “stay awake.” This word is used several times in the New Testament to describe the stance of the Christian in the world. We are to be “awake” because we don’t know exactly when the master will come home and expect us to be ready to serve. Jesus stresses this readiness in another example — one that reminded me of Jim’s remarkable dog — to be alert when a thief might try to break into the house.

The examples used in the parables are examples of significant and unexpected arrivals — the event that Jesus is really concerned about is that his disciples would be ready “when the Son of Man will come.” The ultimate coming of the Son of Man refers, of course, to the final appearance of the Risen Christ at the end of time.

By urging the disciples to “stay awake” the Gospel is not referring solely to that unknown day in the far future, but to the everyday comings of grace that break into our lives, often unexpectedly. I think of the dramatic example in the Gospel accounts of the passion of Jesus; while he stays alert in prayer, preparing for the ordeal that faces him, his disciples fall asleep and are caught off guard when the enemies of Jesus come to arrest him in Gethsemane.

Note, too, that the other readings for this Sunday point to the need for being alert and ready. The first reading from the book of Wisdom refers to the readiness of the Israelites on the night of Passover when they would have to summon up their courage and begin their trek to freedom.

The second reading from Hebrews is from one of the most powerful sections of this encouraging letter. The author reminds his Christians of the many examples of courageous faith that characterized their ancestors, especially that of Abraham who was ready to obey God’s call to go a new place, even, as the text admits, “he went out, not knowing where he was to go.”

In the passage from Luke, when Peter asks about the meaning of his parable, Jesus gives concrete examples of what it means to be alert or “awake.” It is not a matter of simply staring into the darkness. The servant put in charge of the master’s household during his absence does his or her job — not mistreating his fellow servants but making sure that everyone is properly fed and taken care of.

The readiness of a faithful disciple is demonstrated by action — by doing what the Master Jesus has commanded us to do. We have all seen cartoons of the man walking around carrying a sign board proclaiming in alarm, “the end of the world is coming!” That is not the spirit of the Gospel. Christians prove they are alert by living an authentic Christian life, responding to each opportunity of service and love that comes our way.

As Jesus says at the conclusion of this Sunday’s Gospel, “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.”


  • scripture