Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading (Hab 1: 2-3, 2:
2-4): Be patient and wait for God's action
“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!...The Lord replied, ‘Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!” (Lk 17; 5-10)
Why does Jesus say that after we have fulfilled our duty and done all
that we were ordered to do, we should then say we are 'worthless slaves'?
Nowadays both psychologists and educators encourage us to affirm and
fulfill ourselves, become the whole person we are meant to be and be
full of self-confidence. Are not the words of Jesus quoted above completely
contrary to the thinking of people today? If we believe that 'each person
is useful and has unique gifts,' how can we be ‘worthless slaves'?
But no matter how clear the words of Scripture are, we still need faith. With the light that comes from faith we must meditate on our faith so that we can understand more clearly God's action in our lives and better discern our relationship with God.
In other words, we need to use both our hearts and our minds to understand our faith. We must use our minds to ponder on our faith and our hearts to embrace that faith. We must let every aspect of faith including elements that may seem contradictory to permeate our entire lives so that life becomes one harmonious and unified whole.
Today's Gospel presents us with that kind of a contradictory situation. We have done all that we were supposed to do, then why should we still call ourselves 'worthless slaves'? In the same Gospel (Lk 12:37) why does Luke say that the master will reward his faithful servants?
What Luke says in his Gospel is that if the master finds his servants still awake when he returns from a wedding banquet, those servants are truly blessed: “The master will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them.” (Lk 12: 37) .
That is to say, when the servants have performed well and done what they should have done, not only will the master commend them and express appreciation for their work, he will reward them in return as well!
How will he reward them? That is the key point.
The reward the servants wanted from their master was probably some kind of gift, a material reward. But the reward the master wanted to give them was himself. He wanted to give himself to them, to come and serve them himself!
Some people treasure the warm clothes their mothers themselves knit
for them, jokingly calling them 'A Warm Brand.' There is a traditional
poem which has been handed down in many families:
There are probably many young people today who would spend a lot of money to buy famous brand clothes rather than wear their mothers' hand-knit clothes. They think hand-made clothing is old-fashioned. The servants in the Gospel story were probably like that. The reward they hoped the master would grant was very different from what the master wished to give them.
Today's Gospel seems to say that doing something well is itself a reward and we need not boast about it. Nor should we look for others' appreciation, even less should we expect a reward. Everyone should do what he or she should do and be at peace about it. There is no need to talk about it or congratulate oneself. “we have only done what we ought to have done”
I am fifty-seven years old this year (2000) and have a head full of white hair. Once when I was reflecting that perhaps the best years of my life were past, I wrote a little poem to express my sentiments: “I have no home anywhere, my home is everywhere. As I reflect on my life I have nothing to regret nor anything to brag about. There have been hardships, but I am still physically fit. Despite my white hair there are still good years ahead.”(2) If we can let go of any past loss or gain, failures or successes, and calmly face whatever life has in store for us, we will be much happier.
There is a quotation from the Book of History” that perhaps can be a footnote to today's Gospel. In the Han dynasty there was a famous loyal general Li Guang. He was known far and wide for his honesty and kindness, and his love for his subordinates. When he died, he was mourned deeply both by those who knew him as well as by those who did not. Si Ma Qian, the author of the Book of History, wrote a poetic couplet to describe peoples' spontaneous love and respect for Li Guang. He wrote, “The peaches and plums do not speak, yet underneath them a path was formed.” (3) Peoples' respect and love for Li Guang was much the same as the path worn thin under the peaches and plum trees. The flowers were so beautiful and popular that the many people who came to enjoy their beauty automatically paved a path under the fruit trees.
When we have done something good, God Himself is our reward. A clear conscience, peace of mind and heart, is already its own reward, what other reward do we want? Having done all that we should, we can attain that happy state of mind described by Zhuang Zi: “The perfect man has no dreams.” (4). Why would we speak of needing anything else?