I had to chuckle to myself when I read the gospel for this morning; Jesus tells his disciples to not be afraid; and then talks about a thief coming at an unexpected hour; so I ask you; who isn’t afraid of having their house broken into?
So many images in this passage that turn everything upside down. Of course that is Jesus’ way, isn’t it? To shake us from our old habits and help us to see the world with his eyes. The Father has already given the kingdom to us; and has done so lavishly and with great pleasure, expecting nothing in return, except for everything that we are…
That sounded weird didn’t it… God grants us the kingdom, which came to earth in Jesus, and doesn’t expect anything… except for everything that we are. Discipleship is simple, but not easy.
Once again, Jesus is clear that if one has wealth, it must be given to others; he goes so far as to say here, sell your possessions and give alms. That’s pretty direct, and there’s no way to make that any easier; sell your possessions and give alms. Our treasure, as disciples, is being saved for us in a place where nothing can destroy it; it is a treasure beyond measure of unity with God. But what about our life here on earth?
Alms giving is perhaps the only thing that we give that God wants but that isn’t given to God. In church, we give an offering which is symbolic of our first fruits and for some of us a tithe of our money; these are given to the church to do God’s work. Almsgiving is different in that it is given in direct service to those in need. But I think maybe we are being pushed to go beyond that. Sure, we can write checks and then absolve ourselves from the work of truly helping the poor. What does it mean for us that the Father has given us the kingdom? It means that we must continue the work of Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, here on earth, so that all might know the kingdom of God.
Beloved, that doesn’t just mean that we write our checks to various organizations and that we are done. That money is certainly needed; the question that I saw others ask as I read about this passage is, Is that enough? Is that what Jesus means? I think that perhaps, there is more to alms giving that just giving some money. If we are disciples then we must act like Jesus did. As disciples, we should be interacting with God’s people who are poor; and we know there are many ways we can define that. I think what Jesus is asking of us might be to truly work on bringing the kingdom about by working with the poor so that the systems that create poverty might be dismantled. And that, beloved, is in part, what it means when I say God expects everything that we are. We know that we are to worship, to praise, to pray… we know that stuff, and some days that’s easier than others; but God wants us to act in the world as Jesus did, so that there IS no such thing as rich or poor, black or white, slave or free, man or woman… only that there are children of God who are in God’s kingdom as equals. God doesn’t see anyone as being greater or less than another; in the kingdom all are equal and all are loved by God lavishly. Even in the parable we heard today, the master serves the slaves – a ridiculous thought for us, perhaps, but not for God. It appears in the parable that the slaves prepared for the coming of the master, and were rewarded beyond measure. And so for us. We believe that Jesus is coming back. It says so in our Creed, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” We don’t know when the hour is, and so we wait. I find the image of the thief interesting as well. If the thief in this parable is Jesus, why wouldn’t we be afraid? As I think about this image, I believe Jesus is trying to tell us that when he comes, he is going to take from us all of those things that aren’t part of the kingdom. “Breaking in” to our houses might be a way of saying that all those barriers that we have put up to separate us from Jesus and the people and world that he loves, are going to be taken away, taken down; that our resistance to kingdom values of radical equality and love will be challenged and torn down. We have been made a new creation in his resurrection; and I think just maybe when he comes again, we might need a bit of spiritual tune up so that we actually resemble the disciples he called us to be.
When I left the Navy and took a job as a psychiatric nurse, I was living in San Diego with a roommate. At some point, the hospital where I worked was downsizing, and so the last few nurses hired were now going to be fired. So now I was without a job, without income, without health coverage. I was a college student, so I didn’t have any money saved up because I was spending it on books and other things. It was looking pretty grim. My roommate and friends, while all gainfully employed, were also young adults with no savings. We were all one hospitalization from being homeless. Here’s the plan my friends came up with; my roommate was able to handle the full utility bills for 2 months; the rest of my friends threw 20 dollars each into a collection, or a little more if they could, so that my rent could be paid the month I didn’t have it. We were all pretty much in the same predicaments most days, but when I was struggling to keep a roof over my head, we all banded together to make things OK again. And there is no doubt in my mind that we would have done it again if one of us needed it. Their almsgiving wasn’t charity where they didn’t know where their money was going; their almsgiving was directly used by someone they knew and loved, so that that person, (me), would not become homeless. As a community, they banded together in love to keep the community whole.
I think maybe that’s the type of almsgiving Jesus is asking of us. Sell our possessions and destroy the systems that keep people poor; and we have to destroy the barriers that we create whether they are physical barriers like “the other side of the tracks” or the barriers of fear that we all have when it comes to putting ourselves in the places where Jesus’ people are. Dorothy Day, who began the Catholic Worker houses has this to say:
“To feed the hungry, clothe the naked and shelter the harborless without also trying to change the social order so that people can feed, clothe, and shelter themselves is just to apply palliatives, It is to show a lack of faith in one’s fellows, their responsibilities as children of God, heirs to the kingdom”
Be dressed for action, beloved. Jesus is indeed coming back and I pray that he finds us busy at kingdom work. May we all act in love and not in fear so that we might see God’s beloved children more clearly. May we live simpler lives so that we have more resources to put into the kingdom of God. When the thief comes, may he steal from us the things that keep us blind to the needs of others, and blind to the presence of Jesus in those others. And, while we are at it, let us pray with all our hearts and minds that we will help to bring about a kingdom where there are no “others”, only the beloved children of God.