Brothers and sisters, during all our distress and persecution we have been encouraged about you through your faith. For we now live, if you continue to stand firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.
Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
Jesus said to his disciples, "Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
"Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves 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 possession. But if that wicked slave says to himself, 'My master is delayed,' and he begins to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, 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. He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
The local churches founded by St Paul were eager for the glorious second coming of Jesus. The apostle prays, "may he strengthen your hearts; at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints." Similarly in the greeting for the first letter to the Corinthians he prays that they be "blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus." The gospel develops the theme of the opening words, "Stay awake, therefore. You cannot know the day your Lord is coming."
We are to be alert and prepared, but not like some who quit their jobs so as to give all their time to prayers and vigils. Paul handled that crisis briskly, "Anyone who will not work should not eat." And in today's reading he is not tempted to ignore current problems just because of the imminent second coming. He prays to see them again "and remedy any shortcomings in your faith."
Jesus calls for good stewards who treat others in the household with love and respect, eat and drink temperately, and always alert. Such is "the faithful, far-sighted servant." But if the Scriptures do not tolerate sleepy dreamers, neither are we to become mere busy-bodies, masters of trivia, activists with no time for contemplation, strategists with no moral principles, manipulators without mercy or personal concern. We are asked to judge everything in light of the Lord's return "like a thief in the night." Today's texts ask us to be practical and diligent; to be men and women of vision and moral perspective; most of all to be prayerful and personally aware of the presence of our Lord Jesus.
We have become very security conscious in recent years. The house alarm has become almost essential and we are much more inclined to keep doors locked than we might have been in the past. This greater security consciousness is a sign of the times. We live in an age when respect for the property of others is less of a value than it once was. But burglars are not a purely modern phenomenon. Jesus was fond of expressing his teaching in images drawn from the experience of the people he was talking to. In the first of the parables in today's gospel we find Jesus using the image of the burglar breaking into someone's house. Clearly this was an experience that those he was speaking to could relate to. Jesus draws attention to the element of surprise in the burglar's tactics. The only way for the householder not to be surprised by the arrival of the burglar is for him to stay awake all night. The householder staying awake all night becomes in Jesus' parable an image of the disciples remaining alert to the presence and coming of the Lord.
The Lord lives in constant awareness of us; we are called to live in constant awareness of him. We find it difficult to be aware of the Lord all the time, because so many other things fill our minds and hearts. Yet, that is what the Lord asks of us. We are to attend to, be aware of, his constant presence to us. This is what might be termed the contemplative attitude. There is a sense in which we are all called to become contemplatives--with a small "c."
Aidan of Lindisfarne (d. 651) was an Irish monk from Iona monastery, who went as a missionary to Northumbria. He founded a monastic cathedral on the island of Lindisfarne, served as its first bishop, and travelled throughout northern England, spreading the gospel both to the nobility and the common people. A laudatory biography of him was later written by the Venerable Bede (672-735). For his Irish origins, his Scottish monasticism and his ministry to the English, St Aidan was once proposed as a possible patron saint of the United Kingdom.