33rd Sunday Ordinary Time
Year A

Caught Off-Guard

In 79 AD, the volcano Vesuvius, which rises just off the Bay of Naples, Italy, erupted violently and totally destroyed Pompeii, a city of 20,000 population. Much of the city was excavated in the nineteenth century, but archeologists are still uncovering certain neighborhoods. Sometimes the volcanic ash simply buried victims alive. Their bones have long since turned to dust, but the ash in many cases formed a firm mold around them at the moment of death; and by filling the mold with plaster, the excavators can obtain perfect images of those who died in the anguish of the disaster.

In 1949 the archeologists reproduced a startling cast of one of the Pompeian victims. He lay facedown as if death had taken him completely unawares. In one hand was a small crowbar. In the other, clasped tight in his fist, were several gold coins. To all appearances he was a thief who had taken advantage of the confusion of others to break into a building and rob the owner. The gold had done him little good.

"… You are not in the dark, brothers, that the day should catch you off guard, like a thief." (1 Thessalonians, 5:4. Today's second reading).

-Father Robert F. McNamara

Q502: In today’s financial crisis, would not the third servant in the Gospel (Matt 25:14-15, 19-20) be the one to be rewarded for his prudence, because he preserved his bag of money from loss?

Today’s gospel is not about a person’s financial abilities in the stock market or foreign exchange markets. The story is a parable, pointing to something else. It blends in well with the message of the Second Reading (1 Thess 5:1-6), so I will treat them together.

First of all, St. Paul reminds us – in fact, he warns us – to always remain alert to the responsibilities of true discipleship, true Christianity. Every Christian knows that Jesus is returning, and that means we don’t want to be caught unprepared. So St. Paul uses vivid imagery, showing how we can never predict the arrival of a thief at night; also, a pregnant woman can never pinpoint the exact moment in the future when labor pains will begin. If it is important to be responsible and prepare for such unforeseen but significant moments of time, how much more responsible must we be in preparing to meet Jesus when he comes again?

The Gospel parable parallels that message. If we only realized what wonderful gifts, real treasures that the Lord has given to us at our Baptism and Confirmation, and in the Holy Eucharist! We are not called simply to “believe” that Jesus is Lord. We are also called to carry on his mission of love and forgiveness, using the physical and spiritual gifts we have received to make that happen. Did you bury your “treasure,” and thereby neutralize and render impotent the gifts you were given to build up our Christian community? Did you bury your “Faith” in laziness and non-involvement in the Christian mission? Have you ever asked another what their perception of your gifts are, and how you could use them for others?

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The second coming of Christ in glory could be accomplished at any moment (CCC #673). Christ is coming “like a thief”; exactly how are you preparing your heart to be vigilant at all times (CCC #2849)?

Who is the Good and Faithful Servant?

During these last weeks of the church year the readings focus on the second coming of Jesus at the end of time. Because some Christians got overly focused on when Jesus would come St. Paul reminds the Thessalonians and us that our task is not to figure out when Jesus come again but to live in such a way that we would be ready when he does come. The wife in the Book of Wisdom is a portrait of responsible readiness. She uses the talents God gave her to meet the responsibilities of her state in life and respond to the needs of the poor and the powerless. Like the wise woman, two of the servants in Jesus' parable use the talents God gives them to advance the kingdom of god. One servant was concerned only to cover himself and preserve what he has. He opts for security, fearing to lose what has been entrusted to him. He is rejected for not using his talents advance his master's interests. As Pope John XXIII said, "we were not put on earth to guard a museum, but to cultivate a flourishing garden of lie."

Lord Jesus, you have given me all kinds of gifts and talents. Have I used them to benefit others and spread your kingdom or have I hugged them to myself for fear of losing them? Lord, help me to answer these questions honestly, and show me how to use and develop what you have given me.