Do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient servants, you are servants of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that you, having once been servants of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become servants of righteousness.
'If the Lord had not been on our side,'
this is Israel's song.
'If the Lord had not been on our side
when men rose against us,
then would they have swallowed us alive
when their anger was kindled. (R./)
'Then would the waters have engulfed us,
the torrent gone over us;
over our head would have swept the raging waters.'
Blessed be the Lord who did not give us
a prey to their teeth! (R./)
Our life, like a bird, has escaped from the snare of the fowler. Indeed the snare has been broken and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth. (R./)
Jesus said to his disciples: "Be aware of this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."
Peter said, "Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?" And the Lord said, "Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you,he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says to himself, 'My master is delayed in coming,' and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one o whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.
Paul regards his Christians as people who have come from death to life, because the risen Christ dwells within us. The gospel imagines Jesus (the Son of man) as having gone on a long journey from which he will one day return to judge the world. These are contrasting viewpoints, between the "already" of the present state of grace in which we stand, and the "not yet" of our final destiny. But as we ponder these two texts, their divergence does not seem quite so contradictory. We are advised to live daily, even moment by moment, as though the Son of Man were already at the door, ready to come in to enhance our life.
A link between our texts is the occurence of the word doulos ("servant" or "slave") in both. Paul advises us to be "servants of justice." This "justice" includes but goes beyond the fair distribution of this world's goods. It is rooted in God's utter fidelity, being true to God's own nature which is life-giving. On Mount Sinai Moses encountered "a merciful and gracious God rich in kindness and fidelity" (Ex 34:6). As servants of justice we must make kindness and fidelity our own ideals, in imitation of God's own nature.
It is when we live as servants of righteousness that we are true to our authentic personality, made as we are in the image of God. The concept of servant recurs repeatedly in the gospel. The wise person is meant to be just and faithful in God's service, trusting that this is how we were meant to live.
If the master comes back unexpectedly, we will be glad to welcome him. Meanwhile, as stewards of God's household, we have duties to fullfil. We must show respect to all and care for people in need. And of course, to act responsibly in caring for God's good earth. Any moment, any time Jesus will come knocking, and our work will be done.
We may not like sudden surprises. We prefer to have a good idea of what is coming down the road and when it is coming. But sometimes the unexpected does happen. The experience of the unexpected is central to today's gospel. The burglar suddenly breaks into a house at midnight, or the master arrives home at a time when his lazy servant is not expecting him. Jesus invites us to be prepared for unexpected encounters with him.
He will come at an hour we do not expect. This could refer to our death, since sudden, unexpected death is not uncommon. But the various ways he reaches out to us in the course of our lives can also be unexpected. God may call us to do something special, or prompt us to take some path we have not taken before. He can encounter us through ordinary people, whom we would not expect to be messengers of grace. His word may speak to us in ways we have not heard before. He tells us to expect the unexpected. As Isaiah says, God's ways are not our ways. What is important is to be open and receptive to his grace at all times.