October 06, 2019 – Doing what we are asked to do

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Readings / Lecturas

Recording

Preached at Assumption Parish in Bellingham, WA

English

Christianity is no more and no less than a relationship with the God who creates us and saves us. That bears repeating: Christianity is no more and no less than a relationship with the God who creates us and saves us.

So what does a relationship look like over time? We’ve all seen the cycle in romantic relationships. First comes the “elationship,” that head-over-heals feeling of heart-pounding excitement where everything feels perfect and nothing can go wrong. Then, as the relationship develops, there is a deepening of sharing and understanding, where the true nature of the other person begins to be revealed and this revelation, hopefully, inspires love and attachment. After revelation comes commitment, often marked by marriage and moving in together. Commitment is always hard work with difficult adjustments, but the joy, excitement, and newness of the early relationship remain and these allow the difficulties of commitment to be overcome. Eventually, though, the newness dulls and the relationship settles into routine.

Our relationship with God progresses in the same phases. First there is conversion, where we feel overwhelmed and elated by his love for us. This feeling of being loved then inspires us to learn more about God, and this revelation increases our fondness and attachment to him. After that, we decide to commit ourselves to God, maybe through baptism and confirmation, maybe by taking on a ministry or vocation. And then, eventually, just like with romance, our relationship with God settles down to the point of being routine.


Now, routine is not necessarily a bad thing. We have all seen beautiful, decades-long marriages where the daily service of husband to wife and wife to husband is a moving example of a love that is as profound as it is ordinary. That same beautiful, ordinary love is expressed with God through our daily prayer, our devotions, our Masses, our habitual acts of service, and the like.

Many of us, however, are not content with routine. We believe that if something is not exciting, it is broken. So when our relationships become dull or boring, we no longer see the requirements of those relationships as expressions of love but as burdens imposed upon us. In our families we begin to resent going to work or doing the dishes or driving the kids, and with our God we begin to resent our prayer, our virtue, and our service. A routine relationship begins to feel like a compelled relationship.

This is why Jesus tells us the parable of the unprofitable servant. We naturally feel for the servant. We understand the difficulty of agricultural work and are offended that this servant should be given no rest before having to undertake another domestic duty. We feel this because we feel it in our own lives. And yet, the assumption of the parable is that this is what servants do. The servant has not been asked to take on additional responsibilities or to do anything that would have been thought unreasonable in the cultural context. The servant has merely been asked to do his job.

Jesus, here, is challenging our resistance to our natural responsibilities. If we are a student, why should we resent our homework? If we are a spouse, why should we resent our domestic duties? If we are a parent, why should we resent raising our children? If we are a priest, why should we resent prayer and the sacraments? We are all merely unprofitable servants, doing what we have been asked to do.


But let’s go deeper on this. Nearly every philosopher from ancient times until today has agreed that the ultimate human concern is happiness. Everything we do and everything we believe is oriented toward trying to achieve happiness. So when we resist our routines, when we push back against a relationship that has become regular and unexciting, it is because we believe that these responsibilities and relationships are limits on our happiness. We believe that, in order to be happy, we have to be completely free and unrestricted.

In one sense we are correct: freedom is thrilling, while routine is not. But to equate a thrill with happiness is to believe a lie from the Devil. Happiness is a long-term project, and no one who constantly jumps from one thrill to another, who never settles down, who never takes on responsibilities; no one who avoids routine has achieved true happiness. Similarly, no one who believes that freedom must be completely unrestricted can ever be truly happy.

Why?

Because the only one who knows what will make us happy is God himself. It is God who created us and sustains us, it is God who knows the core of our being, and it is God who sees the big picture of our lives. If we want to be happy, we had better follow God’s plan, because if we follow our own plan we are going to get horribly lost and confused.

Unfortunately for our thrill-seeking hearts, following God’s plan for our lives looks like relationship, which means that it often looks routine and unexciting. It often looks like fulfilling various responsibilities to God, family, and neighbor, day in and day out, without complaining. It often looks like being unprofitable servants.


Of course, even though we are absolutely confident that following God’s plan for our lives is the surest path to happiness, this does not mean every single moment is going to look happy. Many of us often feel like the author of the first reading: “How long, O LORD?  I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and clamorous discord.”

But how does God respond? In the first reading he says, “The vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late. The rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.” In other words, God says, “Stay the course. Trust me. I will take care of you.”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, this is the question that all of us face: do we trust God? Do we trust him to take care of us? Do we trust him to lead us to happiness? This is why the parable of the unprofitable servant follows Jesus’ answer about faith. It is an extreme act of faith to trust God, even in the midst of violence and chaos, even in the midst of the dullness of routine.

How can faith like this move a mulberry tree? Because it is God himself who moves the tree. Our mustard seed of faith is what is required to follow the plan of God for our lives, even when we do not know where it is leading, even when we cannot see the big picture. He knows how the tree will move, and it is through our obedience as unprofitable servants that his plan will be carried out.


Again, I do not want to suggest that any of this is easy. All of us will experience suffering. But suffering is not opposed to happiness. If we serve God as unprofitable servants, he will use that act of faith to turn even our suffering toward the good; to make even our suffering increase our happiness.

In my own life, I think about how much I hated my time in seminary. I was bored. I was depressed. I resented God for making give up my 20s and I resented God for making me pray every day even though it was often uninspiring and dry. I resented the routine and the dullness. But when I was finished, I could not deny that my time in seminary had made me a better person, a more patient person, a more loving person, a more prayerful person, a happier person. By following the plan that God had set for me, by acting as an unprofitable servant and doing what I was asked to do, God worked truly incredible graces in my life. Since that time, I have never doubted that he has a plan and that his plan will succeed if I simply follow him.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, I know that obedience to God, to the Church, and to our responsibilities can be as boring as it is difficult. I know that we can feel burdened like the servant in the Gospel. I simply want to encourage you to stay the course. God knows what he is doing, and if you follow him unreservedly, he will take care of you.

Español

El cristianismo no es ni más ni menos que una relación con el Dios que nos crea y nos salva. Eso vale la pena repetir: el cristianismo no es ni más ni menos que una relación con el Dios que nos crea y nos salva.

Entonces, ¿cómo se ve los tiempos de una relación? Todos hemos visto el ciclo en las relaciones románticas. Primero viene la euforia, que cura por completo la sensación de emoción palpitante donde todo se siente perfecto y nada puede salir mal. Luego, a medida que se desarrolla la relación, se profundiza el intercambio y la comprensión, donde la verdadera naturaleza de la otra persona comienza a revelarse, y esta revelación, con suerte, inspira amor y apego. Después de la revelación viene el compromiso, a menudo marcado por el matrimonio y vivir juntos. El compromiso siempre es un trabajo duro con ajustes difíciles, pero la alegría, la emoción y la novedad de la relación temprana permanecen y permiten superar las dificultades del compromiso. Eventualmente, sin embargo, la novedad se opaca y la relación se instala en la rutina.

Nuestra relación con Dios progresa en las mismas fases. Primero está la conversión, donde nos sentimos abrumados y eufóricos por su amor por nosotros. Este sentimiento de ser amados nos inspira a aprender más acerca de Dios, y esta revelación aumenta nuestro cariño y apego a él. Después de eso, decidimos comprometernos con Dios, tal vez a través del bautismo y la confirmación, tal vez asumiendo un ministerio o vocación. Y luego, eventualmente, al igual que con el romance, nuestra relación con Dios se establece hasta el punto de ser rutina.


Por supuesto, la rutina no es necesariamente malo. Todos hemos visto hermosos matrimonios de décadas donde el servicio diario de esposo a esposa y esposa a esposo es un ejemplo conmovedor de un amor que es tan profundo como ordinario. Ese mismo amor hermoso y ordinario se expresa con Dios a través de nuestra oración diaria, nuestras devociones, nuestras Misas, y nuestros actos habituales de servicio.

Muchos de nosotros, sin embargo, no estamos contentos con la rutina. Creemos que si algo no es emocionante, está roto. Entonces, cuando nuestras relaciones se vuelven aburridas, ya no vemos los requisitos de esas relaciones como expresiones de amor sino como cargas impuestas sobre nosotros. En nuestras familias comenzamos a resentirnos de ir a trabajar o lavar los platos o conducir a los niños, y con nuestro Dios comenzamos a resentir nuestra oración, nuestra virtud y nuestro servicio. Una relación de rutina comienza a sentirse como una relación obligada.

Es por eso que Jesús nos cuenta la parábola del siervo. Naturalmente sentimos por el sirviente. Entendemos la dificultad del trabajo agrícola y nos ofende que este sirviente no deba descansar antes de tener que realizar otro deber doméstico. Sentimos esto porque lo sentimos en nuestras propias vidas en nuestras obligaciones a Dios y nuestra familia. Sin embargo, la suposición de la parábola es que esto es lo que hacen los sirvientes. No se le ha pedido al criado que asuma responsabilidades adicionales o que haga algo que se hubiera considerado irrazonable en el contexto cultural. Simplemente se le ha pedido al criado que haga su trabajo.

Jesús, aquí, está desafiando nuestra resistencia a nuestras responsabilidades naturales. Si somos estudiantes, ¿por qué deberíamos resentir nuestra tarea? Si somos cónyuges, ¿por qué deberíamos resentir nuestros deberes domésticos? Si somos padres, ¿por qué deberíamos resentirnos de criar a nuestros hijos? Si somos sacerdotes, ¿por qué deberíamos resentir la oración y los sacramentos? Todos no somos más que siervos, haciendo lo que se nos ha pedido que hagamos.


Pero vamos a profundizar en esto. Casi todos los filósofos desde la antigüedad hasta hoy han acordado que la preocupación humana fundamental es la felicidad. Todo lo que hacemos y todo lo que creemos está orientado a tratar de alcanzar la felicidad. Entonces, cuando nos resistimos a nuestras rutinas, cuando retrocedemos contra una relación que se ha vuelto regular y poco emocionante, es porque creemos que estas responsabilidades y relaciones son límites para nuestra felicidad. Creemos que, para ser felices, tenemos que ser completamente libres y sin restricciones.

En cierto sentido, estamos en lo correcto: la libertad es emocionante, mientras que la rutina no lo es. Pero equiparar una emoción con felicidad es creer una mentira del diablo. La felicidad es un proyecto a largo plazo, y nadie que salte constantemente de una emoción a otra, que nunca se calme, que nunca asuma responsabilidades; nadie que evita la rutina ha alcanzado la verdadera felicidad. Del mismo modo, nadie que crea que la libertad debe ser completamente ilimitada puede ser verdaderamente feliz.

¿Por qué?

Porque el único que sabe lo que nos hará felices es Dios mismo. Es Dios quien nos creó y nos sostiene, es Dios quien conoce el núcleo de nuestro ser, y es Dios quien ve el panorama general de nuestras vidas. Si queremos ser felices, es mejor que sigamos el plan de Dios, porque si seguimos nuestro propio plan, nos vamos a perder y confundir horriblemente.

Desafortunadamente para nuestros corazones que buscan emociones, seguir el plan de Dios para nuestras vidas parece una relación, lo que significa que a menudo parece rutinario y poco emocionante. A menudo parece cumplir varias responsabilidades con Dios, la familia y el prójimo, día tras día, sin quejarse. A menudo parece ser no más que sirvientes.


Por supuesto, aunque estamos absolutamente seguros de que seguir el plan de Dios para nuestras vidas es el camino más seguro hacia la felicidad, esto no significa que cada momento se verá feliz. Muchos de nosotros a menudo nos sentimos como el autor de la primera lectura: “¿Hasta cuándo, Señor, pediré auxilio, sin que me escuches, y denunciaré a gritos la violencia que reina, sin que vengas a salvarme? ¿Por qué me dejas ver la injusticia y te quedas mirando la opresión? Ante mí no hay más que asaltos y violencias, y surgen rebeliones y desórdenes.”

Pero ¿cómo responde Dios? En la primera lectura, dice: “Es todavía una visión de algo lejano, pero que viene corriendo y no fallará; si se tarda, espéralo, pues llegará sin falta. El malvado sucumbirá sin remedio; el justo, en cambio, vivirá por su fe.” En otras palabras, Dios dice: “Mantén el rumbo. Créeme. Yo te cuidaré.”

Mis hermanos y hermanas en Cristo, esta es la pregunta que todos enfrentamos: ¿confiamos en Dios? ¿Confiamos en él para cuidarnos? ¿Confiamos en él para llevarnos a la felicidad? Es por eso que la parábola del siervo sigue la respuesta de Jesús sobre la fe. Es un acto extremo de fe confiar en Dios, incluso en medio de la violencia e injusticia, incluso en medio de la aburrida rutina.

¿Cómo puede una fe como esta mover un árbol frondoso? Porque es Dios mismo quien mueve el árbol. Nuestra semilla de mostaza de fe es lo que se requiere para seguir el plan de Dios para nuestras vidas, incluso cuando no sabemos a dónde nos lleva, incluso cuando no podemos ver el panorama general. Él sabe cómo se moverá el árbol, y es a través de nuestra obediencia como sirvientes que su plan se llevará a cabo.


Nuevamente, no quiero sugerir que nada de esto sea fácil. Todos nosotros experimentaremos sufrimiento. Pero el sufrimiento no se opone a la felicidad. Si servimos a Dios como siervos, él usará ese acto de fe para volver incluso nuestro sufrimiento hacia el bien; para hacer que incluso nuestro sufrimiento aumente nuestra felicidad.

En mi propia vida, pienso en cuánto odiaba mi tiempo en el seminario. Me aburría. Estaba deprimido. Me molestaba Dios por hacer que renunciara a mi edad adulta temprana y me molestaba Dios por hacerme rezar todos los días a pesar de que a menudo era poco inspirador y seco. Me molestaba la rutina y el aburrimiento. Pero cuando terminé, no podía negar que mi tiempo en el seminario me había hecho una mejor persona, una persona más paciente, una persona más amorosa, una persona más orante, una persona más feliz. Siguiendo el plan que Dios había establecido para mí, actuando como un servidor y haciendo lo que se me pidió que hiciera, Dios obró gracias verdaderamente increíbles en mi vida. Desde entonces, nunca he dudado de que él tiene un plan y que su plan tendrá éxito si simplemente lo sigo.

Mis hermanos en Cristo, yo sé que la obediencia a Dios, a la Iglesia y a nuestras responsabilidades puede ser tan aburrida como difícil. Sé que podemos sentirnos agobiados como el sirviente en el Evangelio. Simplemente quiero alentarlo a que mantenga el rumbo. Dios sabe lo que está haciendo, y si lo sigues sin reservas, él te cuidará.

Early Version

That drag oftentimes feels like the servant in the Gospel: we spend the day out plowing the fields, that is, living our God-given vocation, and then when we return home we are told that there is more to do, like prayer, service, and giving. And when it is all done, we are not celebrated or rewarded; we only have the satisfaction of knowing that we did what was demanded of us. In other words, as unprofitable servants, our relationship with God begins to feel much more like a burden than a joy.

Or maybe this daily grind of the spiritual life makes us cry out like the author of the first reading. “How long, O LORD? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and clamorous discord.” Here we are, the unprofitable servants doing our duty, and we feel like we have nothing to show for it. We feel like we are not listened to, that we are not rewarded, that we are doing our part and God is not doing his. Just like a marriage going through a rough patch, burden leads to bitterness; routine leads to boredom.

If this has ever been your experience of Christianity, now or previously, I want you to know two things: First, I want you to know that you are not alone. True Christianity, a true relationship with the one who emptied himself in the incarnation and humiliated himself on the Cross, is never easy. Innumerable are the great saints who struggled, who dragged, who experienced Christianity as a difficulty and a burden and persisted anyway. It is, in fact, their persistence that is so beautiful and inspiring about their lives. Second, I want you to know that the struggle is absolutely, without reservation, worth it.

—-

What do I mean?

What I mean is that doing our duty, that following the dictates of God and the Church, will always, always lead us to happiness. Even when it is not thrilling. Even when we do not feel inspired. Even when we feel like unprofitable servants. Maintaining our relationship with God, even when it has come to feel like a dry, boring grind, maintaining this relationship will always lead us to happiness.

See, as Christians, we trust God. We believe that, because God created us, and knows us far better than we will ever know ourselves, including and especially what will make us happy. We believe that God loves us and desires that we should be happy. And we believe that God knows what he is doing, that he is always working for our happiness in ways that we may not realize until we meet him face-to-face. Which means that if we want to be happy, if we want to see the fruits of grace in our lives, if we want God’s plan to come to fulfillment through and for us, then we must follow God without reservation. Even when things feel dry and uninspired. Even when we feel very distant from God. Still, in those times, God works through our obedience. If we believe that God has a master plan, then if we play our part faithfully, that plan will come to fruition.

This is why Jesus connects his saying on faith with the strange parable of the unprofitable servant. Jesus is telling us, essentially, that faith requires putting our head down and doing what we are told without expectation of recognition or reward. Not in a brain-washed, cult-like kind of way. But in a way where we completely trust God. God is the master who is responsible for the well-being and proper functioning of the entire household. We merely play our part. But if we play our part, if we trust to master to know what he is doing and if we follow his orders unreservedly, that faith will move mountains. Why? Because it is God himself who moves the mountains, and if we obey his will, that mountain will be moved and we will not even realize it.

—-

Personally, I find this all very comforting. I get overwhelmed thinking about the giant gulf between my life and the life of the saints. I get exhausted pondering all of the things God may be calling me to do as the pastor of such a large parish as Assumption. But when I leave the big picture to God and instead focus on the task or call immediately in front of me, suddenly I am faced with something achievable. If I just do the immediate, next thing that God has called me to do, then God’s plan will be accomplished in my life and in our community. But I leave that responsibility to God. I am, and each of us is, merely called to be an unprofitable servant, doing what we have been commanded to do. And this faithful obedience is sufficient to move a mountain.

—-

Making this leap is hard. We all like to be in control. We all like to know what path we are on. We all like to believe that our freedom and autonomy will be the source of our happiness. And I cannot really convince you otherwise if you do not want to be convinced. I can only tell you that, looking back on my life, following God’s plan as an unprofitable servant has brought incredible graces. I did not enjoy seminary. I found it to be a daily, difficult, arduous grind, and my prayer life collapsed completely for many years. But when seminary was over, I looked back at my life and realized that I was a much kinder, more patient, and more loving man after seminary than I was before. And I firmly believe this progress came because I followed the program even though it felt burdensome and uninspiring. For seven years, I woke up, I went to class, I said my prayers. And somehow God used this daily grind to help me increase in virtue and in relationship with Him. And because I have seen the fruits, I have not once since questioned the plan. I still wake up, say Mass, answer my e-mails, and pray. Every day. Whether I feel like it or not. I do not know where God is going to take me, but I honestly do not care. I am an unprofitable servant, and the master plan is his responsibility. I trust him without reservation.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, God knows what he is doing. In the Ancient world, the master of the house was responsible for making sure things ran smoothly. To us, the master in the parable seems selfish, but maybe his order was necessary for the success of the household; maybe this plan succeeded only because the servant did what he was asked to do.

No matter how exciting or boring your relationship with God may feel at a given moment, if you simply obey the Lord and do the task he has set before you, you will wake up one day and realize that he has made you holy, loving, and happy. Just stick to the plan, stay the course, and let God take care of the rest.

Featured Image

Photo, by Dave Doody, found here: https://www.history.org/foundation/journal/spring05/scots.cfm

Join the Discussion

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s