HOMILY: Phil 3: 17- 4:1; Lk 16: 1-8

The Heavenly City

O UR CITIZENSHIP IS IN HEAVEN WHENCE WE LOOK FOR THE LORD JESUS CHRIST WHO WILL TRANSFORM THE BODY OF OUR LOWLINESS. When we hear these words of St Paul along with the parable of the craftily dishonest steward, we are reminded that, although our true country is the City of God in its heavenly condition, we remain subject to the vicissitudes of the earthly city. Like the steward of whom Jesus speaks in the parable, we can suddenly find our self confronted with a crisis on which our future well-being depends. In this world the unexpected can break in upon us at any time and threaten our happiness and security. Neither the young nor the old, the vigorous or the sickly, the prosperous or the poor are immune from disruptive challenges to their peace of mind.

Jesus was keenly aware of this essential insecurity of the human condition and in various ways sought to prepare his followers to meet such crises with appropriate measures and realistic attitudes. In the parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, for instance, he admonishes us to be alert and foresee our needs in good time so as to avoid being ill-prepared to respond when the moment for action comes. This warning is necessary for, as he observes in another place, the master will come when he is least expected. In the parable announced in today's gospel, he makes the point that, like this clever businessman, we too should make use of our wits in the way we conduct our spiritual affairs. If this steward was able to find a creative way to resolve his crisis and prepare for a successful future after losing his employment, it was surely because he had learned to be resourceful in his daily affairs. He planned, considered alternatives and studied the most effective way to approach different persons he had to deal with in the course of managing his masters business. The Lord does not commend his selfish, dishonest methods but recommends his prudence and resourcefulness. He knows how loathe people are to apply the same kind of foresight and energy to resolving spiritual quandaries and strives to overcome this reluctance and lethargy.

St Paul's etching here indirectly reinforces this lesson which the Lord Jesus sought to inculcate in this parable. Since our real life is not within the boundaries of the early society of which we are members, but rather is centered on the city of God, we are to devise and follow a life plan that prepares us actively for participation in that divine society. The first step in that direction is the kind of conviction that Paul attempts to impart with this text, namely, that we must believe with a lively faith that life is not what it presents on the surface. We are not simply creatures of time, bound to the material world of the city with its temporal concerns and ambitions. Rather; we are destined for another mode of existence altogether, one which takes its character from the nature of God himself. Already now we possess the rights of heavenly citizens in an imperfect but real state. It is our task to exercise those privileges in keeping with God's law, and to do so in the manner taught by the gospel, with love in spirit and in truth.

One of the functions of prayer and meditation is precisely to increase within our heart and mind awareness of the dignity we possess as children of God, made in his image and likeness. Such consciousness that is rooted in spiritual experience arising from daily contemplation of the mysteries revealed by Jesus is itself a form of alertness to God's activity and plan. As St. Paul well appreciated, there is no substitute for some measure at least of this spiritual perception of the rights and duties of heavenly citizenship that we possess even while here on earth. This awareness can be enhanced by our exercising it through analysis and meditation on our daily responses to others and to events in light of the truths of faith. The lesson that Jesus impresses upon us today is precisely that we are to make use of such means as these in order to be ready when the unexpected enters our lives and we are constrained to respond without delay. By heeding his words and faithfully carrying out the program he commends we shall beable to recognize him when he comes at the end and be prepared to greet him wholeheartedly with trust in his mercy, filled with desire to share more fully with him and all the saints the joys of the heavenly city.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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