Thursday of Week 21 of Ordinary Time – Gospel

Commentary on Matthew 24:42-51

We enter the final phase of our readings from Matthew which will conclude on Saturday of this week. We will see selected readings from chapters 24 and 25 which form what is called the “Eschatological Discourse”. This is the fifth and final discourse, each of which is a collection of the teachings of Jesus and which are a feature of Matthew’s Gospel. This discourse is concerned with the end of all things, and the second and final coming of Christ to bring all things together.

The earlier part of chapter 24 includes the foretelling of the destruction of Jerusalem, an event which for the Jews of the time (including those who had converted to Christianity) must have seemed like the end of the world (just as, later on, the collapse of the Roman Empire seemed to be the end of the world for St Augustine and his contemporaries).

The early Christians had expected to see the Second Coming in their lifetime and the sacking of Jerusalem and the sacrilegious destruction of the Temple must have seemed the certain signs of the eschaton (Greek, meaning “last thing”). But, by the time Matthew’s Gospel came into circulation, that was already at least 15 years in the past. The end, although certain to happen, did not seem any more quite so imminent.

Matthew includes as part of the discourse a number of Parousia (Final Coming) parables. Following a pattern we have seen in other parts of this gospel, they are seven in number. We have two short ones in today’s reading. Both consist of an exhortation for readiness to welcome the final coming of the Lord.

In the first we should be as alert in watching for the coming of the Lord as a householder would be to prevent his house being broken into and robbed. Like a thief, Jesus will come when we least expect him.

In the second parable, Jesus compares us to a servant who has been put in charge of the house while the master is away. This may refer to the community leaders in Matthew’s church and, by extension, to leaders of communities everywhere. It will be well for that servant when the master unexpectedly returns and finds his servant diligently doing his job. Readiness is measured by people consistently carrying out their responsibilities. On the other hand, the servant may think that there is no sign of the master (who had been expected to come earlier) and goes about beating up the other servants and leading a debauched life. It will be too bad for that servant when the master does suddenly appear on the scene.

The lesson is clear. Many of the Christians, who had expected the Lord to come soon, now see no sign of him and begin to backslide in the living of their Christian faith. We can be tempted to do the same thing. “Let’s have a good (i.e. morally bad) time now and we can convert later.” It is not a very wise policy. In the long run, the really good life, that is, a life based on truth and integrity, on love and compassion and sharing, will always be better than one based on phoniness, on selfishness, greed, hedonism and immediate gratification of every pleasure.

And the “Final Coming” may never come for some of us (in our lifetime) along with the chance to turn back to him who is the Way, Truth and Life – but our individual lives will come to an end. The wisest ones are those who consistently try to seek and serve their Lord at every moment of every day. They find happiness now and Jesus will not be a stranger when he comes to call them to himself. They are the ones who are both faithful and prudent.

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