Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.
Luke 12: 48
In today’s gospel Luke continues Jesus’ teaching on the need to be watchful and prepared for his return. Peter then asks Jesus if this applies only to the disciples or to everyone. Jesus responds that it does, indeed, apply to all, but that the expectation is greater of those who have received the gift of Jesus’ presence and teaching. Those who know what God asks and fail to do so will face harsher judgment than those who do not know what is asked of them. G.K. Chesterton once said: “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” Today we who take ourselves to be disciples of Jesus are challenged by his call to prepare for his return by living out our lives in accord with the gift with which we have been entrusted.
The whole idea of Jesus’ return and of judgment is one that doesn’t sit easily with us. I suspect it never has, but perhaps it is especially foreign to us who have been formed in a culture in which a sense of responsibility to Another for our life is quite foreign. For us, life is essentially an act of self-actualization rather than a responsibility for a gift with which we have been entrusted. We tend, in practice, to believe that it is a rugged independence in which we owe nothing to anyone that is the only path to peace. We are profoundly uncomfortable with a sense of being obliged and accountable to anyone. Yet, the gospel perspective is quite different. It tells us that peace and consonance only come from a grateful response to the One who has given us all. To live awaiting the Lord’s return is not to get everything right and to live without sin and failure; it is simply to live, above all, in gratitude. It is to take care of and offer generously the life, the gift, we have been given.
As a young adult, I struggled with a great deal of anxiety. One manifestation of that anxiety was a persistent dread of death. In the course of time, however, I came to realize that when I was really living my life, I was not afraid of dying. In short, my fear was not of death but of not living out my own life. My anxiety was a gift; it was an experience of judgment. It was prompting me to realize the ways in which I was refusing the gift of the life I had been given in favor of pursuing what I thought my life should be. Before I could offer my life to others, I first had to receive it as the gift that it was. As I received those aspects of my life that I had been refusing, I began to experience gratitude and even awe that, as in the words of Psalm 139: 14, “I am fearfully, wonderfully made.”
So, what does God require of us? One of scripture’s most familiar and beloved answers to that question is found in Hosea 6:8.
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?
Pope Francis inspires so many persons around the world because he embodies “the joy of the gospel.” In the coming days, as we live the closing weeks of the Church year, we shall hear much of vigilance, and judgment, and death, themes that hardly seem to serve as an antidote to anxiety. Yet, they can be a reminder to us of a teaching of St. John of the Cross in the Sayings of Light and Love: “At the evening of life, you will be examined in love. Learn to love as God desires to be loved and abandon your own ways of acting.” What God requires of us, above all, is for us to love God uniquely as God has created us to love and to abandon our own ways of acting that are contrary to God’s will, however much better those alien ways may seem to us.
. . . sometimes it seems to me that I have already received from life all that I wanted; learned all that I wanted to learn. That’s the beginning of old age, and, I think, it should be the time to prepare for death. Not to focus on death, but, on the contrary, to purify one’s reason, thought, heart, contemplation, and to concentrate on the essence of life, on the mysterious joy. Aside from that joy, one needs nothing else because “bright rays are rushing from that joy.”
. . . .
Contemporary gerontology concentrates on . . . making the old men and women feel needed and useful. But it is a fraud (they are really not needed) and self-deception (they know they are not needed). On a different plane, however, they really are needed, but not for all the concerns that fragment our lives. Their freedom is needed, the beauty of old age, the reflection of the ray of light from it, the dying of the heart and the rising of the spirit. That’s why one has to start early the asceticism of old age, the gathering of life everlasting.
I feel that my time has come. But immediately comes a flow of cares and concerns.
I want to add: Youth does not know death because it does not know life. This knowledge comes after “we have seen the evening light.” “And the evening and the morning were the first day” (Genesis 1:5). The young live; they do not thank. And only those who thank truly live.
The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann: 1973-1983, p. 84