Before Mass –
The Gospel starts with good news, but the last half is kinda scary – or at least weird… listen to this:
First Jesus says – have no fear – “the Father is PLEASED to GIVE you the kingdom.” That sounds like good news… and it is… but then later he says,
That servant who knew his master’s will
but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will
shall be beaten severely;
and the servant who was ignorant of his master’s will
but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating
shall be beaten only lightly.
Does this sound like Good news? What is this ‘severe beating’ that Jesus is talking about? And just How DO we make the necessary preparations to avoid this beating?
One early morning in Colorado, my brother and I got up at the crack of dawn to go watch wildlife. We left as quietly as possible, not wanting to awaken everyone in the camp. About a hundred yards up the path, Tim remembered he left part of his camera, so he headed back to the tent and told me to keep going – he’d catch up. Well – I didn’t want to get too far ahead, so I just stepped off the trail a bit to distract myself by exploring a small creek – I kept watching for him to come back, but didn’t see him… I started getting frustrated – c’mon man, time is wasting! After 10 minutes I went back to the tent to try to find him and he wasn’t there. I checked the restroom – I walked up the road thinking maybe he was waiting for me somewhere – but nothing. I awoke the others because I was really getting concerned now – where had he gone!? I was already wondering how we could notify the search and rescue team in the area.
After searching everywhere we could around the camp, the only other option was that he had somehow gotten lost – or eaten by a bear - or – just maybe he had somehow passed me on the path when I had stepped off. We drove up the road… about 3 miles… and finally found him. He thought I had kept going, so he was walking as fast as he could trying to catch up to me. I was kinda mad at him – he should have KNOWN better than to think I’d walk an hour without him… but in the end, I knew this was all MY fault. I had stepped off the trail just long enough for him to pass.
What was supposed to be a fun morning of male bonding with my brother turned into a somewhat scary morning that was totally wasted. Time we should have spent together, was instead spent alone. It may sound corny or superficial, but I only get to spend a couple days a year with my brother, so this really bugged me. That was time we would never get back. If you can’t tell – I still regret that morning – and that was probably 15-20 years ago.
Regret – that’s the best way I can describe it. We all have regret about something – a relationship that fell apart because of some stupid decision we made – or maybe we didn’t put our whole heart into it – some class we failed because we decided not to invest enough time to study – some sport we failed at because we didn’t want to give our best effort… Some money we lost by either gambling it away or investing unwisely…
We ALL know the sting of regret. It’s that pit in our stomach we get when we realize things could have been so different – things SHOULD have been so much better – but I blew it.
My proposal to you is that Regret is the severe beating of which Jesus spoke.
See – the way it reads, it makes it sound like if we don’t do everything exactly right, Jesus is gonna come down here and personally beat the tar out of us as a punishment. The more blessings he gives us, the more he expects us to do his will – and the more severely he’ll beat us. But fortunately, if we don’t really understand what Jesus wanted in the first place, he’ll only beat half the tar out of us. Am I the only one who read it that way?
I propose that Jesus doesn’t punish us at all. In fact, that’s the last thing He’d want to do… read that first line again: the Father is PLEASED to GIVE you the Kingdom. The thing that God wants most is to lavish his blessings upon his children! He GIVES us the Kingdom - We don’t earn it – He gives it to us – that’s why it’s called Grace….a free, unmerited, unearned gift of God.
But in order to receive that gift, we have to be ready and watching for Him. He comes to us when we least expect it – like when my brother passed me on the trail – I had no expectation that he would come back so quickly, so I wasn’t prepared. Instead, the blessed morning we had prepared turned into severe regret – and a homily 15 years later. We have to be prepared for Jesus to show up – and in fact, PREPARE for Jesus to show up – or else we might not see Him.
The punishment is not inflicted by God – but is inflicted by ourselves. See – at some point, we will realize that God tried time after time to reveal himself into our lives – but we either didn’t notice – or worse – we avoided the occasions when He COULD reveal himself.
For example – several of us went to Branchville prison back in April for a rewards day – I think I’ve talked about it before, so I’ll summarize. The offenders who go an entire year without being written up for anything get invited to this reward day. They get cookies – probably a dozen or more a piece – they get coffee/cocoa – with real sugar – they get popcorn, a movie, their pictures taken, they get a real burger with real meat, and most importantly, we talked to them and treated them like human beings for a day. This day is impactful for both the offenders and those of us who went to serve them. We were stewards of God’s gifts – and we lavished what we could upon them. But we received more than they did… the witnessing that took place at the end was very moving – yeah – we saw the face of Christ in prison that day.
What would happen if we never went? We never would have seen the face of Christ. He chooses to break-through when we step out of our pews – out of our comfort zones – into the places where people are in need of hope. Those are the places you and I are called to go. Imagine if we never went – at the end of our lives, we might THINK we’ve had a decent life – but when we die and all is revealed to us, we will see for ourselves the blessings that we passed up by NOT being ready – by NOT making preparations. We surrounded ourselves with physical comforts – and we got so comfortable that we never experienced the face of Christ! Imagine the regret we’ll have when we realize it. At first we’ll be mad – like I was with my brother – but in the end, we’ll realize that Jesus told everything we needed to know – and it was totally my fault.
Where is your heart? What is your treasure? What are we holding onto that prevents us from stepping out there? What excuses will we come up with to continue to avoid going on a retreat or Cursillo or going to the prison or spending an hour in the adoration chapel or spending time with our family…all the places where God is trying to break through.
The Father is pleased to GIVE us the Kingdom. We are ALREADY IN THE KINGDOM! Let that sink in – this life is not all about waiting to get to heaven. We can experience the kingdom here and now. We are all invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb – imagine our regret when, at the end of our lives, we realize could have been at the party our whole lives, but we spent the entire time avoiding going through the door – or worse – we spent our whole lives distracting ourselves.
The Father is pleased to GIVE us the Kingdom. All we have to do is get back on the path so we won’t miss Him when he comes to meet us.