32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) – November 8, 2020
St. Mary – Derby, KS
Wisdom 6:12-16; Psalm 63:2-8; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13
(1) The End Is Near
Today and the next two Sundays we turn our attention to the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, which is made up of three very famous passages: the wise and foolish virgins waiting for the Bridegroom; the parable of the Master entrusting his servants with his money until He returns; and the return of the Son of Man, the King returning to judge the nations saying, “Whatever you did for the least of my brethren, you did for me.”
But as always, context is everything. Jesus isn’t just telling parables and stories so that we behave and are good people, no. These are the last passages before Jesus enters into his passion and death. Jesus has a very specific point he is trying to make. These three passages are all one unit, all from one discourse of Jesus. And what is Jesus talking about? Jesus is talking to his disciples about his “coming, and of the end of the age” (Mt. 24:3). It’s all about the end of this present age and the full and complete inauguration of the New Age, the Age of the World to Come. It is about what will happen when the Bridegroom returns, what will happen when the Master returns, what will happen when the King returns. Jesus is talking about the great in-between time that we are all living in, and about his return.
We pray those words from the Creed every week, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.” But have you ever stopped to think about what they mean? What image comes to mind when you say those words? This is the Creed, after all! This is what you have to believe in order to call yourself a Christian. So what in the world does this even mean? “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end”? Why is Jesus going to come again? What does it mean that he is going to judge? What does it mean his kingdom will have no end?
(2) It’s Like Caesar Himself
It’s helpful to think about this in terms of Caesar. Like I’ve mentioned before, in the time of Jesus, the kingdom was the Roman Empire. After the death of Julius Caesar, Octavian and Mark Antony famously fought the civil war for control of the Empire. At the Battle of Actium, Octavian won the decisive battle. He returned to Rome and secured his place as Emperor, and was given the title Caesar Augustus. But, Caesar’s reign was not completely established in all parts of the Empire immediately. As with any change in power, there would be a time between the decisive battle and the complete and universal establishment of the reign of the new ruler. There would be this in-between time. The mission of spreading the “good news” (euangellion) of Caesar Augustus’ victory and rule would take time. Yes, Caesar was enthroned as ruler, but that didn’t mean everyone was on board with it. It would take time. But there was a certainty that Caesar or his army would arrive to definitively establish his reign. He would “come again” and “judge” or “set right” everything that wasn’t in line with his rule. And as the Romans believed, this Empire, this kingdom would have no end.
In this discourse, today and the next two Sundays, Jesus is explicitly talking about this “in-between time,” this time between the decisive battle (His crucifixion) and the complete establishment of His reign (His second coming).
(3) “Watch and Be Ready!” For What?
This is what we need to be aware of when we listen to this Gospel today. Because just like Caesar or his army would come, Jesus “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” We can easily hear these words and get worried: “Oh dang! Jesus is going to come and judge?” We think of him coming to judge like Santa Claus: Jesus is up there in the clouds watching to see if we’re naughty or nice, and he’s going to “judge” us.
But that’s not quite it. In scripture, the Israelites would beg God to come and judge, they were praying for this day. Why? Why would they be so excited about it? Because when God comes to judge, when Jesus comes to judge, justice will finally be served!(c.f., Psalm 75 “When I reach the appointed time, then I will judge with justice”) All the injustice and suffering and oppression and everything that they have been powerless to stop, God himself will come and judge, God himself will come and set things right.
In this parable, the command, then, is to “watch,” to “stay awake” (Mt 25:13). But it’s not really a command for “vigilance,” but more for “foresight” and “readiness.” “What matters is being ready; being prepared; being wise; thinking ahead, realizing that a crisis is coming sooner or later, and if you don’t make preparations now, and keep them in shape in the meantime, you’ll wish you had” (N.T. Wright). This is a call to make sure you’re on the right team, to make sure the Kingdom you belong to, the Kingdom you are loyal to, the Kingdom you have faith in, is the Kingdom that has no end. Jesus’ coming “to judge the living and the dead” is a message of hope! Because when he comes, then all the injustice we have suffered and others have suffered will finally be set right. Jesus himself, the King himself is going to return! And when He comes, he will finally establish his Kingdom completely, on earth as in heaven, and it will have no end. That is our great hope!
And this is what we pray for! This is what we profess at every Mass. This is the great mystery we celebrate each Sunday: “We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your resurrection, until you come again”! In this Eucharist, as the Lord comes to us sacramentally, strengthening us, building us up—we await his return, his coming in glory.