by Rev. Fr. Dr. Jacob Mathew
All Souls Day; Sunday Preceding the Beginning of the Holy Lent
Gospel Reading: St. Luke 12: 32-48
According to the lectionary of our Church, this Sunday marks All Souls Day this year. This is the Sunday that just precedes the beginning of the Holy Lent as well. The holy gospel that we hear on this Sunday is taken from St. Luke 12: 32-48. Parallels thereto can be seen in St. Matthew 6:19-21 and 24: 45-51.
Before we get in into the exegesis of the gospel portion, let us remind ourselves of two important concepts the Holy Church emphasizes thoroughly. For one, the holy Church includes the faithful, who are physically visible and invisible for us and for the other, holy lent is a combined experience for both the parties. In other words, we enter into the holy lent not without our departed ones, but with them. Our prayers gain wind when are added with that of the departed and their prayers gain momentum when added with that of ours. Since the seal of baptism is active upon us and upon them, we pray on this Sunday for them and in their realm they pray for us that the Lord prepare us all without spot and blemish to experience the heavenly bliss of resurrection. Therefore, the fathers have arranged the lectionary remembering all the departed clergy and faithful on two very Sundays before the holy lent commences.
St. Luke 12: 32-48 can be divided into three sections: I. v. 32-34, II. v. 35-40, and III. v. 41- 48. These three sections highlight the necessity to become poor by giving alms, the necessity of being watchful and the necessity of being faithful managers.
I. Necessity to become poor, give alms (v. 32-34)
When we buy something we pay the price, either in cash or in kind, just as the proverb goes, there is no free lunch. V. 32 exhorts that the little flock need not to fear for it is their Fathers good pleasure to give them the kingdom. One needs to buy a share or place in the kingdom by earning the good pleasure of the Father. To get into the kingdom, and to have a good treasure in the kingdom one is advised to sell all possessions off and give alms. When one sells ones possessions one gets money and that money shall be distributed as alms to get rid of it. In other words, one shall be poor in this world to enter into the kingdom and it is by becoming poor that one is buying a share in the kingdom.
I know a person, who has literally distributed all his wealth to the ones, who
asked him therefore. Recently an Achen, who was a close ally to LL Catholicos HH
Baselios Marthoma Mathew I narrated an incident similar. Bava Thirumeni had 42.5
laks of Rupees in his possession from the sales of Qurbanakramam, which he used
to publish for decades. At his mid eighties, during 1980s, Bava Thirumeni would
suddenly start distributing his wealth to anyone, who asked him. All the money
was gone and his secretary Fr. Binoy (later LL Augen Mar Dionysius) told Bava
Thirumeni that anymore checks would mean he would become bankrupt. That prompted
Bava Thirumeni to preach a sermon about the need to become poor before dying.
The Achen himself, who narrated this to me, heard it from Bava Thirumeni. It is
very important to become poor, if one needs to enter into the kingdom.
One might think in the line, like Bava Thirumeni was a monk and a monk can distribute his wealth like that. In fact a monk is not supposed to own anything as well. Can we, the ones, who live in this world and have next generations following, do this? Of course, one can do that, but not at the same level like Bava Thirumeni did. However, another question has a higher relevance here. Do the words of the Lord have bearing only to wealth and money? I feel not. They also shall mean love, goodness, generosity, gentleness, compassion, sincerity, truthfulness, trustworthiness, faithfulness, moral correctness, peace, happiness, integrity, joy, patience, self-control and all virtues. One needs to distribute these virtues as well as alms. The world is always in need of these virtues and it is only Christians, who can distribute them. If one aims a place in the kingdom, one needs to be the donor for all that have been said above. In other words, it is easy to be a donor of money and wealth. To distribute virtues is more difficult. Monks, when distribute their wealth, have done their part. Much difficult is the state of the people, who live in the world. Married people are the ones, who are given and entrusted with more and as verse 48 says: From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.
II. The Necessity of Being Watchful (v. 35-40)
For the married people are given more, they need to be more watchful. What have been given to the married ones, more than that to a celibate?
For one, the family. Family is the simplest form of the kingdom of God on earth. It is love that holds a family together. The hinges, on which a family revolves, are love, sincerity, integrity, trustworthiness and faithfulness. A family must adorn itself with happiness, joy, patience, and peace from within. A family must radiate generosity, gentleness, compassion, and self-control. When the father leads the family from the front with these virtues, it is easy for the mother to hold the family together. The children would learn these virtues from the parents and will become good fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives and so on. Everyone shall therefore, be extremely vigilant that no external attack is permitted. In short, one needs to be watchful always that no thief nears to break in and destroys the castle of a Christian family.
Secondly, a Christian needs to remind himself that he is a slave of the Lord and he is entrusted with precious possessions of the master like a husband, wife, children, brothers, sisters, friends etc. As a watchful servant of the master one shall keep oneself always ready and protect the masters possessions. Then, when the master comes and calls us, no matter late into the night or during the day, we will be found worthy. We shall perceive the arrival of the master as the last call to leave everything behind and go. For none of us knows, when the master is to come, we need to be vigilant. This reading on all souls day gains weight here, when we look at this text in this angle. For such a watchful servant the reward is like the master himself serving for him at the table and not the servant serving the master, says the Lord. Amazing though!!!
III. The Necessity of being a faithful manager (v. 41- 48)
Everyone likes to be a manager, for being a manager brings more recognition and respect. However, getting a higher position means higher responsibility and accountability. A lower grade worker can make a mistake, but not a manager. A nurse tech will be forgiven for making a certain degree of a mistake, but a nurse will not. A doctor will have lesser margin to commit a mistake, for it is all about the life of a human being. As Christians, we all are managers of ourselves and other positions that we have accepted. Some of us are managers as family fathers and husbands. Some are mothers and wives. We at the same time are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and friends as human beings. On an ecclesiastical level, some of us are priests, deacons, trustees, secretaries, managing committee members, leaders of youth league, Women's League, MGOCSM, Sunday School teachers, students and so on to name a few positions. We all are managers on our entrusted levels. We have the responsibility of governing our entrusted duties responsibly. If we are only enjoying the respect and recognition that come along with these responsibilities, we would be like the manager, who beats his fellow servants, men and women, enjoy with drunkards and merry make using the stuff belonging to the master. In short, we are simply attracting wrath upon wrath by being less responsible. If we are not efficient managers, we would be beaten and cut into pieces, as the Lord himself says.
Being a Christian is not a threat, but is a privilege
The reading of all souls day is a very powerful double edged sword. The gist of the text is simple. If one is good and go according to the commandments, be a just and responsible servant and manager, one's reward is great at the second coming of the Lord, where the Lord himself will become the servant. This is exactly the song after the reading of the gospel also, namely: Blessed are those servants good, whom their Lord shall find? (Yajamaanan varumannerathu unarvulloray than?). If not, the reward will be total destruction and doom.
I do not know if there is any other reading that has this powerful bearing upon Christians, other than the reading on the Sunday of all departed clergy. This is reminding us all about the gravity of positions that we have been entrusted upon as Christians. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded is not to be seen as a threat, but as a privilege. Being called to hold a responsibility is a privilege for sure though. Responsibility becomes a threat only when one does not respond with accountability.
On the other hand, our God is not an unforgiving, unsympathetic autocrat. He can forgive our sins and that of all our beloved departed ones. He is always ready to welcome with both hands a returning sinner or a prodigal son. We have the option for seeking true forgiveness through true penitence. We can pray for forgiveness for our beloved departed ones, and they all will do so for us too. Seen in this line as well, being a Christian is a privilege. Let us all enter into the holy lent as one body of Christ to await the epiphany of the kingdom, which is to be seen in the resurrection of the Lord.
Let us all believe that we are Christian and we have been given more. Therefore, we have to be more responsible. May the Lord find us and all our beloved departed ones as responsible ones, who were poor, were watchful and were faithful managers at His second coming. Let Him reward us and them with the kingdom, which is the good pleasure of our Father in heaven. Amen.
[Editor's Note: Rev. Fr. Dr. Jacob Mathew is not related to Dr. Jacob Mathew, Managing Editor of Malankara World.]
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