In the Gospel for this weekend (Luke 12:32-40) the Lord Jesus presents a “recipe for readiness.” He gives it to us so that we can lay hold of His offer that we not be afraid. He is not simply saying, “Be not afraid.” He is explaining how we can battle fear by being ready.
Frequently, Christians today are uncertain about what is necessary in order to be ready to meet God. Many also make light of the Day of Judgment, considering it all but certain that most of humanity will be saved.
Jesus does not adopt this position. In fact, He teaches the opposite. He consistently warns of the need to be ready for our judgment. Jesus does not counsel a foolish fearlessness rooted in the deception that all or even most will be saved. Rather, He counsels a fearlessness based on solid preparation for the Day of Judgment. Jesus tells us to do at least five things in order to be ready and therefore not afraid.
If we do not make these sorts of preparations, Jesus warns that He will come when we least expect and take away all that we (wrongly) call our own. Jesus says elsewhere, But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap (Lk 21:34). The apostolic tradition says this of the unprepared: disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman’s labor pains begin. And there will be no escape (1 Thess 5:3).
Thus, while Jesus begins by saying that we ought not to fear (for the Father wants to grant us His Kingdom), He also warns that being free of fear is contingent upon embracing and following a plan that He (Jesus) sets forth for our life.
Let’s look at this plan and see how we can forsake fear by becoming and remaining ready. Jesus gives us five specific things to do that will help to ready us for the time when the Lord calls us. It is not an exhaustive list, for no single passage of Scripture is the whole of Scripture, but these are some very practical and specific things to reflect on and do.
I. Reassess your wealth. Jesus says, Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. In this passage, the Lord is giving us a triple teaching on wealth. He says that we ought to do these three things:
- Forgo Fear. In the end, it is fear that makes us greedy and worldly. We grab up the things of this world because we are terrified of not having enough for tomorrow. But what if we could receive the gift to trust God more and to know and experience that He will give us our daily bread? He has given us the Kingdom, why not everything else? He may not give us everything we want, but we can learn to trust that He will give us what we really need. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these other things will be given unto to you (Matt 6:21). If we can just allow God to diminish our fear, we will be surprised at how easy it is for us to be generous with what we have and not hoard it.
- Forward your Fortune. When we are generous to the needy and poor, we store up treasure for ourselves in Heaven. Treasure is not stored in Heaven by way of a rocket ship or hot-air balloon. It is stored there by generously distributing our wealth to others in wise and creative ways. I discussed this more fully in my homily last week (Instructions on Income). While it may not be appropriate for us to sell everything and go sleep on a park bench, the Lord is surely telling us to be less attached to and passionate about money and possessions, for they root us in this world. And where our treasure is, there also will our heart be.
- Fix your focus. Our focus is wrong and worldly because most of us have our treasure here in this world. But once we become less fearful and more generous, our obsession with worldly treasure subsides and our joy in heavenly treasure grows. This fixes our broken focus and puts our heart where our treasure really is and ought to be: in Heaven with God. So simplify; be less rooted in this world; come to experience that your greatest treasure is God and the things waiting for you in Heaven.
Reassess your wealth. What is it and where is it? That will tell you a lot about your heart, too.
II. Ready yourself to work. The Lord says “Gird your loins,” which is the ancient equivalent of “roll up your sleeves.” The Lord has work for us to do and wants us to get to it.
Surely the Lord has more than a worldly career in mind. He has in mind things like growing in holiness, pursuing justice, and raising children in godly fear. The Lord wants us to work in His Kingdom. We must commit to prayer, Sunday worship, the reception of the sacraments, obedience, and holiness.
The Lord has particular work for each of us based on our gifts. Some are good teachers; others work well with senior citizens; still others are good entrepreneurs and can provide employment for others at a just wage. Some are skilled at medicine and the care of the sick; others are called to priesthood and the religious life. Some are called to suffer and to offer that suffering for the salvation of souls. Some serve in strength, others do so in weakness; but all are called to serve, to work.
So work with what the Lord gave you to advance His Kingdom. Part of being ready means doing your work.
III. Read the Word. The Lord says, light your lamps.
On one level, the phrase “light your lamps” is simply a symbol for readiness (e.g., the Wise and Foolish Virgins in Matt. 25:1-13).
But in another sense, a lamp is also a symbol for Scripture. For example, You Word, O Lord, is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path (Ps 119:105). Or again, We possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable. You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts (2 Peter 1:19).
So here we can also understand that the Lord is teaching us that an essential part of being ready is being rooted and immersed in the Scriptures and the Teachings of the Church. That makes sense, of course. There is just too much stinking thinking in this increasingly secular world, a world that is hostile to the faith. How can we think that our mind is going to be anything but sullied if we are not reading Scripture every day? How will our minds be sober and clear if we are inebriated by the world?
Clearly, being ready means reading Scripture each day and basing our life on it.
IV. Remain watchful. The Lord says, And be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks. … Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.
There are different ways to watch and wait. There is the passive watching and waiting that we may do when waiting for a bus: we just sit there and look down the street. But there is another kind of waiting that is more active. Consider the watchfulness of a waiter: He is actively waiting and watching. He observes what is needed now and notes what will be needed soon, moving to supply what is or will be necessary.
There is also an eager sort of waiting intended here much like that of a child on Christmas Eve. The child does not wait in dread for the coming of “Santa Claus” but in eager expectation.
And so it is that watchful and eager waiting are what the Lord has in mind here. It is like that active waiting we do when we have invited a guest to our home. We know that his arrival is imminent and so we joyfully prepare and place all in order.
To set our house in order is to sweep clean our soul of sin and all unrighteousness (by God’s grace) and to remove all the clutter of worldliness from our life. Regular confession, daily repentance, simplifying our lives, and freeing ourselves from worldly attachments declutters the house of our soul.
Have you prepared the home of your soul for the Lord’s arrival? If not, the Lord says that you may experience Him as you would a thief. Now the Lord is not really a thief, for everything belongs to Him. But if we have not renounced our worldliness and greed, if we have not rid ourselves of attachments to this world, then the Lord will come and take back what is His. He will seem like a thief because we (wrongly) think it is ours.
It’s never a good idea to call God, the Lord and owner of all, a thief. Bad move!
V. Reflect on your reward. The Lord says, 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. And should he come in the second or third watch and find them prepared in this way, blessed are those servants.
The Lord is clear that He has a reward for those who are found ready!
It is prefigured in the banquet of the Eucharist, in which the Lord prepares a meal and feeds us. The Lord says, Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me (Rev 3:20). And again, And I confer a kingdom on you, just as my Father has conferred one on me, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom (Luke 22:30). Food is so quickly bought and scarfed down today, but in the ancient world one of the most pleasant things to anticipate was a long, hearty meal enjoyed in the company of good friends and family.
The Lord offers us the magnificent blessing of Heaven, where we will be with Him and those whom we love forever in unspeakable joy and peace.
Do you meditate often on Heaven and long for its rewards? One of the stranger aspects of the modern world is that, even among believers, there is so little talk of Heaven. And while it is not a place any of us have ever been (so it’s hard to fully understand what it will be like), we should reflect often on the joy that awaits us there.
Part of being ready to go home to the Lord is to long for that day to come. When we want to do something, we prepare for it eagerly; we are motivated and we make sacrifices. We will more naturally do whatever is necessary.
So here are five elements constituting a recipe for readiness. Better set your house in order ’cause He may be coming soon!