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The Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

Gospel, First Reading & Psalm


Second Reading


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GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):

...so let's begin.  We will read it through, and then I will ask some questions about it, and I will try to unpack the meaning.  Jesus is of course comparing the kingdom of God to different realities and he says this in verse 14:

For it will be as when a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted to them his property; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.  He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them; and he made five talents more.  So also, he who had the two talents made two talents more.  But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money.  Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them.  And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, `Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.'  His master said to him, `Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.'  And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, `Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.'  His master said to him, `Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.'  He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, `Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.'  But his master answered him, `You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed?  Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.  So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents.  For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.  And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.

That is a rough parable.  There is a lot going on there, a lot of twists and turns so let us just walk through it step-by-step.  The first question I want to ask here is what exactly was a talent?  What is the situation being described here and what was the unit of measure being described?  So Jesus sets up a situation.  The context here is of a master with his servants.  The master goes off into a foreign country and he leaves the servants his money in order for them to make investments with the money.  Now the unit of money being described here, a talent, was in fact a large amount of money.  We don't know exactly how much because the unit would differ on whether it was a silver talent or a gold talent, that would be that the most valuable of all; but just as an example, scholars point out that one silver talent was about 15 to 20 years worth of daily wages.  So that's a whole lot of money even if you only get one talent.

In this case the master leaves five to one servant, two to another servant, and then one to a third servant.  And it's interesting here, you will notice in that line it says that he gave the talents each according to his ability.  That is your first little clue here that something more is going on in this parable than just a straightforward story about investing money.  That what we are talking about here is Jesus, or God, being like the master, who is then bestowing gifts upon us, his servants, but not equally.  He is not equally distributing them.  This is important.  The talents are not given equally, but each person according to their ability.  This, by the way, is where we get the actual word talent from in English.  So when we talk about someone being talented, we are using an ancient Jewish or Greco-Roman monetary unit in order to talk about someone's innate gifts, that one person is more talented than another person at music.  Why?  Well because they have a natural gift to do a better job, to be a better musician, than someone else.  Someone else might be more talented at math than me — that is not hard because I am terrible at math — because they have a natural innate ability to solve math problems and to do it well.   So the English word talent comes from this parable.  That is very significant here.

So the master is giving each of these different distributions of money to the servants on the assumption that while he's away they are going to use them well, they will invest them, and then he'll get the return when he returns at the end.  So what happens?  The master comes back after a long time, verse 19, to settle accounts with the servants.  And you can see here that the first servant has double his investment, so what does the master say to him?  “Well done...enter into the joy of your master.”  Now there is another clue that this is not just a story about investments.  This is about the kingdom of God.  Just like the entering into the wedding feast in the parable of the 10 virgins was a metaphor, was a figure for entering into the eternal wedding feast of the kingdom of Heaven, so too this idea of entering into the joy of the master is a figure for entering into the joy of the kingdom.  I think that is something worth dwelling on, to think about, to ponder.  That one of the essential aspects of heaven is not just eternal life, which is great, eternal life is great, but think about being joyful for all eternity.  Especially in our day and time when so many people battle with anxiety and depression, sadness and fear of pain and hurt, think about moments in your life where you had joy -- like real joy -- and then multiply that times infinity and eternity.  That is what the kingdom of heaven is like, and that's what the master is inviting the servants into.  The master is God and he says “come into the joy of the master.”

Now that's the first two servants though, the third servant does not do the same.  So the first servant doubles his investment, the second servant doubles his investment, but then the third servant reacts differently.  Look at how he reacts, this is interesting.  When the master comes to settle the account, it says “I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow.”  Pause there.  I don’t know if you notice this, but he just insulted the master.  He basically called him a thief, because when you reap where you didn't sow that means you take what belongs to someone else.  So if you sow your field and then you go reap your field, you're taking the fruits of what belongs to you.  But if you reap what you didn’t sow, you're basically stealing from someone else.  So what is this servant's concept of his master?  He thinks of his master as a hard man, in other words someone who is unforgiving, who is selfish, and also as a kind of a thief who steals from people.  So his response to the master is fear.  He doesn't trust the master.  He doesn’t want to give joy to the master by making an investment with the master’s money, in his fear he takes that one talent any buries it in the ground.  Why?  So that he can just give the master back what belongs to him.  His security is in just giving him what belongs to him anyway.

This is a twist.  This is one of those twists that Jesus’ parables have.  Why would anyone do this?  It really is an irrational act.  If the master is so generous to give you freely one talent, which would be about 15 to 20 years worth of wages, so I am going to try to do some math here and I shouldn’t do this, but if it is 20 years worth of wages, let’s say it is like $50,000 a year, what would that be?  Can you tell me?  It is like a million dollars.  So if an annual salary would be around $50,000 a year and the master gives him a talent, it's worth 20 years of wages.  He just gave you $1 million.  If someone gives you $1 million, that should be a clue to you that they are generous, that they're not the kind of person who is a hard man, who is very selfish with what belongs to them.  Much less if he gives someone five talents, like $5 million to do with as you will, to invest as you will, to use as you will.  So the servant here has a twisted vision of the master.  He doesn’t understand who the master is.  Not only does he not recognize that the master is generous, he even thinks the master is a thief, that he takes what doesn't belong to him.

I think this is really telling, because one of the things it shows us is how sin distorts our understanding of God.  It actually makes me think of Genesis 2.  If you remember, after Adam and Eve fall, what do they do?  They are afraid of God and they go and they hide from God because their understanding of God is not as a generous father who wants to give them everything, who gave them life and gives them dominion over the whole world, but their idea of God after they sin is altered.  They think of him as a tyrant, as someone who is out to get them, who wants to withhold good things from them, of someone of whom they should be afraid.  That's how the third servant thinks of his master.  He's fearful, he's anxious and he's irrationally depicting the master as selfish, and as a thief.  Which by the way, can God be a thief?  No.  Everything that exists is from him.  It all belongs to him.  So even when we give him something, we are simply giving back to him what was his to begin with.  Every gift that we have is ultimately from him anyway.  So in this case, this servant here fails to invest the master’s money and the master responds...

 


SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):

The first thing you’ll notice here is that Paul has already catechized the Church at Thessaloniki. He actually says:

...as to the times and the seasons…

And that’s meaning the end times and the signs of the end. Paul says:

...you have no need to have anything written to you.

It’s a little ironic that he’s saying that, because obviously they do need to have something written to them, because the fact that he wrote 1 Thessalonians means they needed some clarification. But rhetorically, what Paul means there is “I’ve already taught you about this.” So he says:

For you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. (1 Thessalonians 5:2)

So what you can infer from this, and what commentators had inferred from these words—and this is very important—is that eschatology or the doctrine of the end and of the last days (the Church’s teaching on that, Christ’s teaching on the end times) is not some marginal, obscure topic...like a secret mystery that we only induct the elite into. No, it’s part of catechesis. It’s part of the general teaching of the Church. It’s part of the apostolic proclamation of the Gospel.

Even though he isn’t with that Church very long, he considered it important enough to have actually given them at least a basic catechesis on what’s going to happen at the end of time, because that was part of Christ’s teaching. His last famous sermon to the apostles was the Olivet discourse, which was all about the end times. So Paul’s first statement here is...it’s just important to emphasize that if you’re interested in the end times (in other words), the first thing you should do is read what Jesus said about the end times and read what the New Testament says about the end times, so that you get the apostolic proclamation of the end times, rather than looking to popular apocalyptic novels or maybe private revelations that you’ve heard about that people might say about exactly what’s going to happen in the end.

I’ve noticed a lot of Catholics who look for their eschatological doctrine in areas...they tend to start by looking at things that are not public revelation but rather private revelation or private opinion. And those things might have a place, but the foundation for Christian eschatology and for Catholic eschatology is the teaching of Christ and the apostles. And Paul—in particular his letter to the Thessalonians—are a central repository of apostolic teaching on the end.

So with that said, the main teaching that Paul is emphasizing in the reading for today is the unknown character and the unexpected nature of the end of the world. Basically, what he’s doing is reiterating the teaching of Jesus from the Olivet discourse (like in Matthew 24)...that when it comes to the question of “When will the world end? When will the final judgment take place? When will the destruction of the world and the creation of a new universe (the new Heavens and a new Earth)...when will that take place?” Well, Jesus says in his teaching to the apostles:

But of that day and hour no one knows….

So the unknown dimension of the timing of the parousia (the second coming) is a basic teaching of Jesus which Paul is reiterating here, using the imagery of a thief in the night. So what he says here is:

When people say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as travail comes upon a woman with child, and there will be no escape.

So notice, again, he’s drawing there on the teaching of Jesus. This is from the Gospels—Matthew 24, for example—where Jesus says that the days of the Son of man (the coming of the Son of man) will be like the days of Noah, where people are eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, and then the flood came suddenly and destroyed them all.

So in other words, the vast majority of people were unaware of the coming cosmic judgment of the flood in Genesis 6-9. In the same way, at the end of time, at the final judgment, the vast majority of people are going to be unprepared and not ready for the destruction and the judgment that’s going to come upon them. There’s an unknown element to its timing. But Paul says:

But you are not in darkness, brethren, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all sons of light and sons of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.

So there’s two dimensions here to the teaching here. On the one hand, Paul is reiterating the fact that we don’t know the day or the hour. Just like a woman...she knows she’s going to have a baby at some point, but you don’t know exactly when the hard labor is going to hit, despite the myth of due dates. A doctor might give you a due date, but that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily—that the birth pangs are going to come on that date. And even more in antiquity was this the case that the mystery of when the birth pangs would come was something that you had no control over. You’re waiting, you know that there’s going to be an end to the pregnancy when the child is born. But you don’t know the day or the hour when those birth pangs will hit.

In the same way, we don’t know when the tribulation that is going to precede the final judgment exactly is going to happen. However, we—unlike the world, Paul is saying here, unlike believers who aren’t aware of what Christ has taught us—we know that it’s coming, and so we need to be prepared rather than unprepared. We need to be awake rather than asleep. We need to be sober rather than drunk.

And he doesn’t mean either of those literally. He’s not talking about literal sobriety or literally being awake...although obviously, he warns against drunkenness elsewhere in his letters. But he’s using them as metaphors for a moral laxity. So we need to be morally awake, spiritually vigilant, and morally sober in order to be spiritually and morally prepared for what he calls “the day of the Lord.”

Now what is the day of the Lord? Well, here Paul is—although he’s writing to Greek Christians, Christians who are Greek-speaking who have converted from paganism to Christianity, to use anachronistic terminology, if that’s the case. So they become believers in Christ. That’s a Jewish term, when Paul speaks about the day of the Lord. If you go back to the Old Testament, the book of Amos for example, or the book of Joel, or the book of Isaiah...they all use the expression “the day of the Lord” to refer to the day of judgment.

Now in the Old Testament, it can refer to particular events of judgment, like the judgment of Babylon or the judgment of Egyptians—the day of the Lord, like when there’s destruction or warfare in which God punishes those who offend him on Earth, especially the pagan nations who have persecuted the people of Israel.

But it becomes a stock expression not just for particular judgments, but for the last one that’s going to happen at the end of human history. So what Paul is saying here is you need to be ready for the day of the Lord, because even though we know it’s coming, we don’t know the day or the hour. And the imagery he uses here of a thief in the night is very mysterious but also very powerful. Because when you go to bed at night, if you were to be robbed in the middle of the night—most of us lock our doors, precisely because when we are asleep, we are more vulnerable. And if a thief sneaks into our home in order to steal, we don’t know when exactly that’s going to happen. It tends to happen in the night, under cover of darkness, but we don’t know the timing of it.

So Paul is actually getting that analogy of the thief in the night from Jesus, once again. This is an apostolic re-presentation of the teaching of Christ. So if you go back to Matthew 24, for example, verses 42 and following, we read these words. He says, after describing the days of Noah and the coming of the parousia, the second coming, he says:

Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched 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 hour you do not expect.

So there’s that tension between the definiteness of the final judgment—we know it’s going to happen—but then the uncertainty of the exact timing. And that tension is part of the preaching of Jesus to the apostles. And in that tension, Christians are supposed to live in order to be morally and spiritually prepared for the judgment, for the day of judgment.

Alright, so Paul’s moral exhortation is vigilance. Keep awake, be sober, and be ready. Don’t live your life as if the world is not going to end, in other words. Because there are a lot of people who do, and that’s a foolish way to live, Paul is saying. You need to be aware and be awake and be vigilant.

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Gospel, First Reading & Psalm


Second Reading


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GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):

...so let's begin.  We will read it through, and then I will ask some questions about it, and I will try to unpack the meaning.  Jesus is of course comparing the kingdom of God to different realities and he says this in verse 14:

For it will be as when a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted to them his property; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.  He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them; and he made five talents more.  So also, he who had the two talents made two talents more.  But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money.  Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them.  And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, `Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.'  His master said to him, `Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.'  And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, `Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.'  His master said to him, `Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.'  He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, `Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.'  But his master answered him, `You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed?  Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.  So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents.  For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.  And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.

That is a rough parable.  There is a lot going on there, a lot of twists and turns so let us just walk through it step-by-step.  The first question I want to ask here is what exactly was a talent?  What is the situation being described here and what was the unit of measure being described?  So Jesus sets up a situation.  The context here is of a master with his servants.  The master goes off into a foreign country and he leaves the servants his money in order for them to make investments with the money.  Now the unit of money being described here, a talent, was in fact a large amount of money.  We don't know exactly how much because the unit would differ on whether it was a silver talent or a gold talent, that would be that the most valuable of all; but just as an example, scholars point out that one silver talent was about 15 to 20 years worth of daily wages.  So that's a whole lot of money even if you only get one talent.

In this case the master leaves five to one servant, two to another servant, and then one to a third servant.  And it's interesting here, you will notice in that line it says that he gave the talents each according to his ability.  That is your first little clue here that something more is going on in this parable than just a straightforward story about investing money.  That what we are talking about here is Jesus, or God, being like the master, who is then bestowing gifts upon us, his servants, but not equally.  He is not equally distributing them.  This is important.  The talents are not given equally, but each person according to their ability.  This, by the way, is where we get the actual word talent from in English.  So when we talk about someone being talented, we are using an ancient Jewish or Greco-Roman monetary unit in order to talk about someone's innate gifts, that one person is more talented than another person at music.  Why?  Well because they have a natural gift to do a better job, to be a better musician, than someone else.  Someone else might be more talented at math than me — that is not hard because I am terrible at math — because they have a natural innate ability to solve math problems and to do it well.   So the English word talent comes from this parable.  That is very significant here.

So the master is giving each of these different distributions of money to the servants on the assumption that while he's away they are going to use them well, they will invest them, and then he'll get the return when he returns at the end.  So what happens?  The master comes back after a long time, verse 19, to settle accounts with the servants.  And you can see here that the first servant has double his investment, so what does the master say to him?  “Well done...enter into the joy of your master.”  Now there is another clue that this is not just a story about investments.  This is about the kingdom of God.  Just like the entering into the wedding feast in the parable of the 10 virgins was a metaphor, was a figure for entering into the eternal wedding feast of the kingdom of Heaven, so too this idea of entering into the joy of the master is a figure for entering into the joy of the kingdom.  I think that is something worth dwelling on, to think about, to ponder.  That one of the essential aspects of heaven is not just eternal life, which is great, eternal life is great, but think about being joyful for all eternity.  Especially in our day and time when so many people battle with anxiety and depression, sadness and fear of pain and hurt, think about moments in your life where you had joy -- like real joy -- and then multiply that times infinity and eternity.  That is what the kingdom of heaven is like, and that's what the master is inviting the servants into.  The master is God and he says “come into the joy of the master.”

Now that's the first two servants though, the third servant does not do the same.  So the first servant doubles his investment, the second servant doubles his investment, but then the third servant reacts differently.  Look at how he reacts, this is interesting.  When the master comes to settle the account, it says “I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow.”  Pause there.  I don’t know if you notice this, but he just insulted the master.  He basically called him a thief, because when you reap where you didn't sow that means you take what belongs to someone else.  So if you sow your field and then you go reap your field, you're taking the fruits of what belongs to you.  But if you reap what you didn’t sow, you're basically stealing from someone else.  So what is this servant's concept of his master?  He thinks of his master as a hard man, in other words someone who is unforgiving, who is selfish, and also as a kind of a thief who steals from people.  So his response to the master is fear.  He doesn't trust the master.  He doesn’t want to give joy to the master by making an investment with the master’s money, in his fear he takes that one talent any buries it in the ground.  Why?  So that he can just give the master back what belongs to him.  His security is in just giving him what belongs to him anyway.

This is a twist.  This is one of those twists that Jesus’ parables have.  Why would anyone do this?  It really is an irrational act.  If the master is so generous to give you freely one talent, which would be about 15 to 20 years worth of wages, so I am going to try to do some math here and I shouldn’t do this, but if it is 20 years worth of wages, let’s say it is like $50,000 a year, what would that be?  Can you tell me?  It is like a million dollars.  So if an annual salary would be around $50,000 a year and the master gives him a talent, it's worth 20 years of wages.  He just gave you $1 million.  If someone gives you $1 million, that should be a clue to you that they are generous, that they're not the kind of person who is a hard man, who is very selfish with what belongs to them.  Much less if he gives someone five talents, like $5 million to do with as you will, to invest as you will, to use as you will.  So the servant here has a twisted vision of the master.  He doesn’t understand who the master is.  Not only does he not recognize that the master is generous, he even thinks the master is a thief, that he takes what doesn't belong to him.

I think this is really telling, because one of the things it shows us is how sin distorts our understanding of God.  It actually makes me think of Genesis 2.  If you remember, after Adam and Eve fall, what do they do?  They are afraid of God and they go and they hide from God because their understanding of God is not as a generous father who wants to give them everything, who gave them life and gives them dominion over the whole world, but their idea of God after they sin is altered.  They think of him as a tyrant, as someone who is out to get them, who wants to withhold good things from them, of someone of whom they should be afraid.  That's how the third servant thinks of his master.  He's fearful, he's anxious and he's irrationally depicting the master as selfish, and as a thief.  Which by the way, can God be a thief?  No.  Everything that exists is from him.  It all belongs to him.  So even when we give him something, we are simply giving back to him what was his to begin with.  Every gift that we have is ultimately from him anyway.  So in this case, this servant here fails to invest the master’s money and the master responds...

 


SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):

The first thing you’ll notice here is that Paul has already catechized the Church at Thessaloniki. He actually says:

...as to the times and the seasons…

And that’s meaning the end times and the signs of the end. Paul says:

...you have no need to have anything written to you.

It’s a little ironic that he’s saying that, because obviously they do need to have something written to them, because the fact that he wrote 1 Thessalonians means they needed some clarification. But rhetorically, what Paul means there is “I’ve already taught you about this.” So he says:

For you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. (1 Thessalonians 5:2)

So what you can infer from this, and what commentators had inferred from these words—and this is very important—is that eschatology or the doctrine of the end and of the last days (the Church’s teaching on that, Christ’s teaching on the end times) is not some marginal, obscure topic...like a secret mystery that we only induct the elite into. No, it’s part of catechesis. It’s part of the general teaching of the Church. It’s part of the apostolic proclamation of the Gospel.

Even though he isn’t with that Church very long, he considered it important enough to have actually given them at least a basic catechesis on what’s going to happen at the end of time, because that was part of Christ’s teaching. His last famous sermon to the apostles was the Olivet discourse, which was all about the end times. So Paul’s first statement here is...it’s just important to emphasize that if you’re interested in the end times (in other words), the first thing you should do is read what Jesus said about the end times and read what the New Testament says about the end times, so that you get the apostolic proclamation of the end times, rather than looking to popular apocalyptic novels or maybe private revelations that you’ve heard about that people might say about exactly what’s going to happen in the end.

I’ve noticed a lot of Catholics who look for their eschatological doctrine in areas...they tend to start by looking at things that are not public revelation but rather private revelation or private opinion. And those things might have a place, but the foundation for Christian eschatology and for Catholic eschatology is the teaching of Christ and the apostles. And Paul—in particular his letter to the Thessalonians—are a central repository of apostolic teaching on the end.

So with that said, the main teaching that Paul is emphasizing in the reading for today is the unknown character and the unexpected nature of the end of the world. Basically, what he’s doing is reiterating the teaching of Jesus from the Olivet discourse (like in Matthew 24)...that when it comes to the question of “When will the world end? When will the final judgment take place? When will the destruction of the world and the creation of a new universe (the new Heavens and a new Earth)...when will that take place?” Well, Jesus says in his teaching to the apostles:

But of that day and hour no one knows….

So the unknown dimension of the timing of the parousia (the second coming) is a basic teaching of Jesus which Paul is reiterating here, using the imagery of a thief in the night. So what he says here is:

When people say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as travail comes upon a woman with child, and there will be no escape.

So notice, again, he’s drawing there on the teaching of Jesus. This is from the Gospels—Matthew 24, for example—where Jesus says that the days of the Son of man (the coming of the Son of man) will be like the days of Noah, where people are eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, and then the flood came suddenly and destroyed them all.

So in other words, the vast majority of people were unaware of the coming cosmic judgment of the flood in Genesis 6-9. In the same way, at the end of time, at the final judgment, the vast majority of people are going to be unprepared and not ready for the destruction and the judgment that’s going to come upon them. There’s an unknown element to its timing. But Paul says:

But you are not in darkness, brethren, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all sons of light and sons of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.

So there’s two dimensions here to the teaching here. On the one hand, Paul is reiterating the fact that we don’t know the day or the hour. Just like a woman...she knows she’s going to have a baby at some point, but you don’t know exactly when the hard labor is going to hit, despite the myth of due dates. A doctor might give you a due date, but that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily—that the birth pangs are going to come on that date. And even more in antiquity was this the case that the mystery of when the birth pangs would come was something that you had no control over. You’re waiting, you know that there’s going to be an end to the pregnancy when the child is born. But you don’t know the day or the hour when those birth pangs will hit.

In the same way, we don’t know when the tribulation that is going to precede the final judgment exactly is going to happen. However, we—unlike the world, Paul is saying here, unlike believers who aren’t aware of what Christ has taught us—we know that it’s coming, and so we need to be prepared rather than unprepared. We need to be awake rather than asleep. We need to be sober rather than drunk.

And he doesn’t mean either of those literally. He’s not talking about literal sobriety or literally being awake...although obviously, he warns against drunkenness elsewhere in his letters. But he’s using them as metaphors for a moral laxity. So we need to be morally awake, spiritually vigilant, and morally sober in order to be spiritually and morally prepared for what he calls “the day of the Lord.”

Now what is the day of the Lord? Well, here Paul is—although he’s writing to Greek Christians, Christians who are Greek-speaking who have converted from paganism to Christianity, to use anachronistic terminology, if that’s the case. So they become believers in Christ. That’s a Jewish term, when Paul speaks about the day of the Lord. If you go back to the Old Testament, the book of Amos for example, or the book of Joel, or the book of Isaiah...they all use the expression “the day of the Lord” to refer to the day of judgment.

Now in the Old Testament, it can refer to particular events of judgment, like the judgment of Babylon or the judgment of Egyptians—the day of the Lord, like when there’s destruction or warfare in which God punishes those who offend him on Earth, especially the pagan nations who have persecuted the people of Israel.

But it becomes a stock expression not just for particular judgments, but for the last one that’s going to happen at the end of human history. So what Paul is saying here is you need to be ready for the day of the Lord, because even though we know it’s coming, we don’t know the day or the hour. And the imagery he uses here of a thief in the night is very mysterious but also very powerful. Because when you go to bed at night, if you were to be robbed in the middle of the night—most of us lock our doors, precisely because when we are asleep, we are more vulnerable. And if a thief sneaks into our home in order to steal, we don’t know when exactly that’s going to happen. It tends to happen in the night, under cover of darkness, but we don’t know the timing of it.

So Paul is actually getting that analogy of the thief in the night from Jesus, once again. This is an apostolic re-presentation of the teaching of Christ. So if you go back to Matthew 24, for example, verses 42 and following, we read these words. He says, after describing the days of Noah and the coming of the parousia, the second coming, he says:

Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched 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 hour you do not expect.

So there’s that tension between the definiteness of the final judgment—we know it’s going to happen—but then the uncertainty of the exact timing. And that tension is part of the preaching of Jesus to the apostles. And in that tension, Christians are supposed to live in order to be morally and spiritually prepared for the judgment, for the day of judgment.

Alright, so Paul’s moral exhortation is vigilance. Keep awake, be sober, and be ready. Don’t live your life as if the world is not going to end, in other words. Because there are a lot of people who do, and that’s a foolish way to live, Paul is saying. You need to be aware and be awake and be vigilant.

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The Dark night of the soul
A Biblical Tour of heaven