Today is Kohene Sunday- A special day to remember all the departed priests. It’s good to remember at least once in a year our forefathers who helped us to sustain in true faith. Let’s take a couple of minutes to remember them. We have already attended countless holy Qurbanas. We have participated in Holy Communion numerous times. Just take a moment and try to remember the names of the priests, imagine their faces, and recollect the images of the holy altars where they offered the holy Eucharist for us. Especially, remember the priests who are deceased. You know they are with their master; participating in the worship and holy Qurbana along with their master in heaven. So they have better access and they can intercede for us.
Let this Sunday be a Thanksgiving Day to God for giving us the priests who are appointed to help us to imbibe and nurture us in faith.
Well, coming back to the today’s gospel reading. Today’s reading is from St. Matthew chapter 24 versus 42 to 51. And it’s about two metaphors regarding the second coming of Jesus and the need to stay awake. It says that no one knows what time the master comes to evaluate his servants. The parable of a master going for a long journey is similar to the parable of vineyard tenants, which is very familiar to us.
A master is going for a long journey. He is assigning duties to his servants. When he comes back he is going to evaluate what his servants did. The illustration here depicts two servants. One who is faithful and the other who thinks the master is delaying and does all wicked things. So the message is since you do not know when the master is coming you have to stay alert.
I’m not going to focus on the second coming of Jesus in today’s sermon. Rather I’m trying to elucidate why is the message stay awake is relevant in today’s context. For this I’m trying to find parallels between the gospel of Matthew and Mark. The same parable is depicted in both gospels.
In St. Mark the call to watch is replaced with a synonym- the command to “shake off sleep”. By commanding to shake off sleep Jesus is introducing a new theme. The struggle between staying awake and falling asleep.
Now I’m inviting your attention to what happened on Gethsemane. Jesus wanted his disciples to stay awake with him. But what happened, the tragedy is they will not stay awake with Jesus in Gethsemane. And they will sleep. They failed, because they do not understand the call to the cross; and the call to be awake with Jesus. We are failing to stay awake because we simply never understood the call and mission of Christian life.
I will make this theme very simple by telling a small story. Fiorello La Guardia was one of the most colorful and energetic and reformist mayor of New York City during some time after First World War. He was very active, he would ride the city fire trucks, and he takes the entire orphanages to the baseball games.
The story I am going to tell you was printed in New York Times sometime in 1935. Mayor LaGuardia turned up in a night court that served the poorest ward in the city. It was very late; so he dismissed the judge for the evening, and took over the bench himself. After he heard a few cases, an old woman was brought before him. She was accused of stealing a loaf of bread. She told the mayor that her daughter’s husband had deserted her; her daughter was sick; and her grandchildren were starving.
But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, insisted on pressing charges. He said, my store is in a very bad neighborhood. Therefore, she’s got to be punished in order to teach other people a lesson. The mayor was listening. He turned to the old woman and said, I have got to punish you. The law makes no exception. $10 or 10 days in jail. Remember in 1935 $10 was like $500.
But even as he spoke, LaGuardia was reaching into his pocket and pulling out a $10 bill. Here is the woman’s fine, he said. Furthermore, I’m going to fine everyone including me in this courtroom $.50. The reason he said, this is for being insensitive, for not staying awake, for not sensing the needs of others, for living in a city where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat.
Well, are you getting the link, the meaning of Jesus command to stay awake. Unfortunately, whenever we talk about staying awake it land up in the theme of the second coming of Jesus, and people think that it exclusively mean you have to keep praying all the time and be ready and alert for the second coming. But here stay awake has a different meaning. It means and commands us to be mindful, to be alert, to be vigilant, and to be sensitive to the needs of the needy. Not only the material or tangible needs, but also the psychological and spiritual needs; like for example- love, compassion, understanding and so on.
I was on a mission trip last year to India. We had a chance to participate in the community mission of Bethsada/ Guardian Angel society. The community mission team there tries to reach out, and address the needs of the community. For example, they are supporting 25 local families with rice, vegetables groceries and other essential food every month; they have a group of 25 students whose educational expenses are taken care on a monthly basis; they help homeless families to build a house and so on. I know this is not the new mission. But what I’m trying to say is, during the interaction with George achan and Julio’s thirumeni-the people behind this mission-they said, we can easily ignore these people, I mean the people who are in need in the community; and we can be busy with the parish ministry, church and diocesan administration, worship liturgy and so on. Community mission is a big burden. It’s a long-term commitment. For example, if you are supporting a student who is in a professional college like nursing, you have to support him or her for four years. Though it is a big we still want to do this, because we are supposed to be sensitive, mindful, and vigilant to the needs of the needy.
I hope the message is much clearer now. It’s the duty of a priest to stay alert and make sure that his parish members are staying awake, vigilant, and sensitive to the needs of the fellow beings around us. I hope today’s gospel reading and message help us to stay awake, and help us to be sensitive, open, and watch for the needs of the needy. Thanks again, May God bless.