NINETEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (C)
What does it mean to be faithful? To answer that question, let us first take it out of the context of religion. We use the word "faithful" often to describe a marriage relationship. Husbands and wives, we understand, are called to be faithful to one another. Two people pledge themselves to one another exclusively.
What does it mean for a person to be faithful to their spouse? The most basic answer is not having extramarital affairs. Anyone who is engaged in adultery we would say is being unfaithful. It doesn't matter if the spouse discovers the affair or not. Being faithful in your marriage is not just about when your spouse is looking. It means being faithful even when your spouse is absent. Otherwise, it is not really faithfulness at all, only the appearance of such.
Further, we understand faithfulness to be about more than outward actions. Faithfulness is also a matter of the heart. One may not be carrying on a physical affair, but if a husband spends his lunch hour browsing sites like Tinder.com or looking in the personals section of Craig's list, he is not being faithful in his heart. Any wife would justifiably feel betrayed.
One of the strongest metaphors used to describe our relationship to God is marriage. In the famous passage from Ephesians 5 when St. Paul talks of marriage, he ends by saying, "This is a great mystery; I speak of Christ and the Church" (Eph 5:32). The Church is called the Bride of Christ; Christ is the Bridegroom.
So our understanding of marriage can help us to understand what it means to be faithful to God. Would anyone consider a wife faithful to her husband if she kept her marriage vows just one day per week? Not at all. Yet for many Christians, this is how they treat their relationship with God.
I go to Mass every Sunday. That's very good. Do you carry your relationship with God into the other six days of the week?
I pray with my family before meals. That's very good. Do you also pray alone, when no one is watching?
Being a Christian is not about going through some ritual motions. It's about entering into a covenant relationship with God. Just as in marriage, that relationship is exclusive. There are certain acts which are incompatible to a marriage relationship. Adultery, whether in the flesh or in the heart, violates the faithfulness of marriage. Likewise there are acts which are incompatible with a healthy relationship with God. To be part of the Bride of Christ means following His commands. These are the terms of the covenant. We can be adulterous in our relationship with God when we fail to live by them -- even when we think no one is looking.
All of our readings for this Sunday speak of being watching, ready and vigilant -- of being faithful. Just as the wife remains faithful to her husband even when he is away from home, so we are called to be faithful to Christ, even when He is not with us in the flesh.
The letter to the Hebrews reminds us of Abraham and Sarah (Heb 11:8-19), who followed God's commands even though they didn't understand where they were being led. They trusted in the Lord, and that trust allowed them to stay faithful to their calling.
In our gospel (Lk 12:32-48), Jesus speaks of servants waiting vigilantly, with lamps lit, ready to meet their master's return from a wedding (again, the marriage metaphor). Even to the second or third watch, they remain vigilant to be ready for the master's return. Christ speaks also of servants whom the master has entrusted to distribute food. If they carry out this duty faithfully in his absence, they will be rewarded.
Being faithful is not about acting as you ought to only when you are being watched. It is not about going to church on Sunday so you can be seen by the pastor. It's something you carry with you every hour of the day. You should be faithful to God in your studies, in your work, in your leisure time, in your relationships with others, in your heart and in your mind. If you are only faithful when it is convenient, or when you think others are watching, it is not faithfulness at all.
But that's so much! Who can be vigilant and faithful at every moment? Is it too much to ask a husband or wife to be faithful to their spouse at every moment? No. For the married couple, faithfulness is not a chore, but a joy, because they do it out of love! It is my pleasure and my privilege to be faithful to my wife every single day, because she is the only one I choose to give myself to. She would say the same for me. Can the demands of marriage be a burden at times? Sure. But it is a burden we both bear happily, because it is born with love.
And so faithfulness at all times to God becomes a joy and a privilege when we give ourselves to God in love. Can it be burdensome sometimes? Certainly. I'm sure the cross was burdensome to Christ, but it was a burden He bore willingly out of love for us. Jesus teaches, "For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be" (Lk 12:34). If our treasure, that which we value most, is in God, then our hearts will be faithful to Him in all of our thoughts, words and actions.
But what happens when we are not faithful? Adultery can be disastrous to a marriage. But it doesn't have to be. I've seen marriages recover from unfaithfulness when spouses are willing to forgive one another. If we have been unfaithful in our relationship to God, we can take solace in this -- God is always faithful, and God is always ready to forgive. We may break our covenant with Him, but He will never break His covenant with us.
So be vigilant. Be constant. Trust in the Lord and wait patiently for Him. For this, above all, is what He asks of you -- to be faithful in all you do to His loving will.