Being Awake and Watchful

The idea of God coming at an hour one does not know or expect surely sends very fearful signals. Sometimes, one cannot but wonder: Why does God want to take us unawares? Is it possible that we could labor all our life for God and only to be taken unawares at an instant we are indisposed? Why does Jesus not put all the cards on the table so that we know what to do and how to prepare? This is really the great issue about the Christian life. It is not about waiting for the right or opportune moment. It is a struggle at every moment. There is no room for complacency.

Keeping Watch

The Gospel of today from Matthew 24:42-51 stresses the need to be ever awake and watchful as the Master’s coming will be at an undisclosed moment. God acts in time, but He is not limited by time. The Christian life is lived in time, but it is linked to eternity. The call to follow Christ is a full lifetime commitment and it does not admit of pause or break moments. The important thing is to keep working and remain ever ready. Only hypocrites and sycophants wait for special moments to impress their master or leader. Jesus warns his followers against such eye-service. As human beings, we are used to definite time frames and deadlines.

The fact that the coming of the Son of Man has no defined timetable is meant to keep one always ready and expectant. Three rules of conduct are needed: being watchful, being awake, and being faithful. Failure in any of these can be disastrous. Thus, there is always the element of fear and uncertainty, though negative that may sound. This is similar to what Paul tells the Philippians in Phil 2:12: “Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” The idea of fear and trembling here is linked to the consciousness of our human weakness, knowing that our inconstancy can always betray us.

The Reassuring Reality of God’s Grace and Faithfulness

Fear is provoked by our natural inadequacy. However, the consolation is that salvation does not all depend on our efforts and human faculties. It is grace. Paul tells the Corinthians in the first reading of today from 1Cor 1:1-9 that they have every grace (charis) and spiritual gift (charism) they need as they await the day of the Lord. There is also the cheering fact that God is a promise keeping God and He is always faithful. That is a powerful way of saying that, as Christians, we have all the power working in us and working for us.

So, we have nothing to fear as long as we remain in fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ. He knows how weak we are. He knows that the heart is often willing, but the body is weak. That is why He reads our hearts more than the weakness of our mortal frame. With such a sympathetic Father figure, our attitude should not be that of dread of a terrible judgment day but that of joyful expectation of a glorious future.

When the frame of mind is that of joyful expectation, it becomes easier to remain watchful, awake, and faithful, knowing that what lies ahead is much greater than the present realities. With the psalmist of today, we can continue to sing: “I will bless you day after day and praise your name forever and ever. The Lord is great and highly to be praised; his greatness cannot be measured” (Ps 145:2-3)

[Readings: 1 COR 1:1-9; MT 24:42-51]

Fr. Luke Ijezie

Rev. Fr. Dr. Luke Emehiele Ijezie comes from Amucha in the Imo State of Nigeria. He is a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Orlu, Nigeria, and ordained a priest on 24th September 1988. With a Licentiate and Doctorate in Sacred Scripture (SSL, Biblicum, Rome, 1995, STD, Gregorian University, Rome, 2005), he has since 2006 been a lecturer in Sacred Scripture and Biblical Languages at the Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA), Port Harcourt, Nigeria. He is the national secretary of the Catholic Biblical Association of Nigeria (CABAN) and executive member of the Association of African Theologians (ATA), a member of various professional associations, among which are the Catholic Biblical Association of America (CBA) and the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL). He is the author of numerous publications. Contact: Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA), Port Harcourt emehiele@yahoo.com

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