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Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Homily for 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, CSSp

Wisdom 18:6-9, Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19, Luke 12:32-48

On the Gospel, A Light Beating

An unskilled worker goes for a job interview and demands a pay higher than that demanded by skilled workers. When asked why he demands so much for his unskilled work he explains that because he is new to the job he would put in more effort and time than the skilled workers to do the same job. Therefore, he should be paid more. This is certainly an unusual way of reasoning. Booker T. Washington echoed a similar sentiment when he said, "I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which one has overcome while trying to succeed." This rare way of thinking is reflected in today's gospel.

Today's gospel is on the theme of remaining faithful as we wait for the return of the Lord. Jesus uses two parables to make the point. First there is the Parable of the Watchful Servants where Jesus encourages his disciples to be vigilant and ready for action as they wait for the coming of the Master. That he will come is certain, but when he will come no one knows. The Lord comes unexpectedly into our lives everyday through events and people we meet. But the ultimate, unexpected coming of the Lord in our lives is the moment of death. We should be watchful to recognise the Lord and prepared to meet him in the little unexpected opportunities of everyday life. This is the best way to prepare for the ultimate encounter with the Lord at the hour of death.

In the second parable, the Parable of the Faithful or Unfaithful Servant, Jesus reiterates the lesson of the first parable under the heading of faithfulness. He portrays two different attitudes of disciples in the absence of the Master. The wise disciple remains steadfast at his duty post even in the master's absence. The foolish disciple takes to a complacent lifestyle and takes the law into his own hands. The day of reckoning comes with the master's return. The faithful servant receives a promotion, the unfaithful one is "cut to pieces" and given a place with the unbelievers.

Jesus then goes on to expand and throw more light on the issue of reward and punishment. 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. (Luke 12:47-48a)

We are all too familiar with the two groups in which disciples will be separated on judgment day: the sheep on the right and the goats on the left, the blessed and the accursed, the faithful and the unfaithful. But what is this extra teaching that Jesus gives here on those who will receive "a light beating?" Surely it is not the blessed in heaven for they receive no beating at all. And it is not the accursed in hell for they receive a severe beating.

Passages like this lead one to the conclusion that beside heaven and hell, there is an in-between state of remedial punishment. Catholic teaching calls it purgatory, a state of temporary, remedial punishment for believers who die in venial sin. They cannot be admitted to heaven directly because they have guilt and yet they cannot be consigned to everlasting punishment in hell because their sin is not mortal (1 John 5:16-17). Many Protestant Christians have a problem with the doctrine of purgatory. One reason for this is that the Reformation Bible does not include some of the books in the Catholic Bible, such as 2 Maccabees, which clearly support this doctrine. But the doctrine of purgatory makes sense, especially in light of biblical passages, such as today's gospel, that provide a third alternative to outright blessing and outright condemnation.

The doctrine of purgatory satisfies God's mercy as well as God's justice. It is good news to the struggling brother or sister who never quite seems to make it to the Christians ideals we all aim at. It is a great source of hope for us to know that even if we die in this imperfect, struggling state we may receive "a light beating" but we will still be admitted to the eternal happiness of heaven by and by.

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