- Judges 4: 1-7
A victim of Joshua’s victory over him, Jaban the King of Hazar, now wants revenge. He mobilizes a large, well-equipped army for the conquest of Israel. The alarmed Israelites turn to a well-respected leader, the prophetess and judge, Deborah, to take charge. She summons Barak, who gathers an army of 10,000. She instructs Barak where to encamp while she draws Jacob’s army into Barak’s waiting army. [After this excerpt, Barak follows Deborah’s commands and routs the enemy. The victory is credited to the wise and brave leadership of Deborah, who is called “a mother of Israel,” (5:7).]
- Psalm 123
The psalmist paints a moving vignette– the posture and expression of an adoring slave girl as she awaits the attention/instructions of her mistress– to evoke Israel’s waiting for the Lord.
- Zephaniah 1: 7, 12-18
Refuting those who dismiss the Lord’s accounting, Zephaniah foretells “the Day of the Lord.” It is always speeding toward us, it will cause chaos and pain for those who have the most to loose when the status quo is upset, and no one will escape.
- Psalm 90: 1-8
The only psalm attributed to Moses, who himself lived a hundred and twenty years and played the pivotal role in the history of God’s chosen, acknowledges that God was before creation and spawned creation. To God a thousand years of human history are like a fragment of a memory from a dream. And our seventy, or even eighty years, just slip by. But the failures of our life-time, even those hidden from others, come before God’s face and we fear God’s anger. May this anxiety about reckoning spur us to “count our days rightly/that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
- I Thessalonians 5: 1-11
“The Day of the Lord,” i.e. Christ’s return, will come Paul writes “like a thief in the night”– unexpected, by surprise, undetected until it was standing right over our bed, startling us awake. “But you beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are children of light….” So, while some are indifferent and others are frightened by a day of reckoning, you have nothing to fear. “For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord, who died for us, so that whether awake or asleep we may live with him.”
- Matthew 25: 14-30
Following the earlier parable about watchfulness, (see Proper 27 A), Matthew adapts a story about an impending accounting to one of the most emotionally gripping human experiences, our experiences with money. We are to act as shrewd managers act; to invest prudently and wisely. And what does money represent in this parable? Perhaps it is what we all possess by various measurements– our time on earth, the impact we have on others in that time, the decisions we make and the actions we take and the consequences for others; in short, all that comprises our lives. There will be an audit. Get busy.
In his sweeping examination of the human condition in Being and Time, Martin Heidegger examines the reality that every human being can acknowledge– one day I will no longer exist, (Div. II, p. 274 ff). Coming to grips with this reality is crucial for our well-being, he insists. We will no longer be consciously involved in the lives of others. We have done all we can. But, more tragically, we can also cease to live even before we die when we fail to live beyond basic instincts and miss opportunities to more authentically be ourselves, which means being more fully engaged with and for others. He analyzes the many ways we “tranquilize” ourselves to avoid the reality of our ceasing to exist and the lost potential when we just give in to the supposed urgencies of unexamined living.
Today’s appointed readings and gospel jolt us out of our complacency. In just a few words that have echoed for millennia, the psalmist compares our fleeting, finite time to God outside human time. For God a thousand years of human history are like a vague fragment of a half-forgotten dream– just to put things in perspective. Our seventy or eighty years fly by in a blur. Both Zephaniah and Paul use the venerable phrase, “The Day of the Lord,” to apply in their respective contexts that life, as we know it and all human history, will not last forever. And in the end, we will face the consequences of our failures, even those we had successfully hid from others.
So, what are we to do with these facts? We are not to be frozen with fear. The psalmist urges us to use this stark awareness of our limited time to “count our days rightly/that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Paul argues that if we are already engaged in doing God’s work in the world, we have nothing to fear. And, we are not to just sleep-walk through life, sort of dead already. We are destined not for fear, Paul insists. The parable in Matthew is even more explicit. Get up! Get busy! Use your instinctual shrewdness for good! Invest what is most precious to you– your time on this earth, your impact on others, your assets, in short the various aspects that make up your life, as calculatingly as the most successful investors! Do not sit on these assets nor hide them under your mattress. You do not have forever! You do not know how much time you will have. So, use it as if you were running out of time, (because you really are!).
Confronting the fact that one day we will no longer exist and will have used up whatever time and opportunities we had (or, frittering away our time and opportunities before we die), and imagining at some time and in some way an accounting will be conducted can lead to what Heidegger calls “an impassioned freedom towards death [Heidegger’s emphasis]– a freedom which has never been released from the illusion of the ‘they’ [i.e. conventional, everyday ways of just sliding by, just getting along], and by what is factical, certain of itself and anxious.” (p. 311)
Today’s readings from Zephaniah, Psalm 90, Paul and Matthew’s gospel convert this “anxiety” into a healthy, constructive, life-giving motivator for productive action. It prods us to use whatever capacities, circumstances and time we have beneficially for others and, thereby, for ourselves as well. Live more abundantly by shrewdly “investing” whatever we have been given.