This homily , based on Mark 13:33-37, has been written for the First Sunday of Advent, as well as the Feast of St. Francis Xavier (03 December 2017).
Yesterday I found myself wandering through a familiar street in a foreign country. The familiarity was comforting, but it was also wrapped in some sort of nostalgia. You see, I was sauntering through one of the alleys of Taipei’s famous Zhongxiao Dunhua shopping area, and the place felt quite familiar because I had spent two years here, nearly thirty years ago, as a Jesuit scholastic training in media production.
The Lord’s parable today leaves us with more questions than answers–as usual. You could say it’s a “questionable” parable.
The master of the house has three servants, and before he leaves for a long journey, he decides to entrust to each one of them a large amount of money. To the first, he hands five talents; to the next one he gives two talents, and the last servant, one talent. A conservative estimate is that a talent is equivalent to US$1000 today, so if we do the math, that’s a total of US$8000 he just handed to his servants.
Do you feel like you’ve been running on empty? “Running on empty” is a phrase we use to refer to people on the brink of exhaustion–be it physical or emotional. It’s a reference to automobiles running so dangerously low on fuel that it might just stop running any moment now. It basically means you’re on the verge of a breakdown or burnout.
In today’s Gospel our Lord criticizes the excesses and shortcomings of the Pharisees, but virtually tells us to practice what they preach. It’s surprising advice since it’s a subversion of the usual adage that we should “practice what we preach.”
In today’s Gospel reading, our Lord utters his famous line: “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and repay to God what belongs to God.” At first glance, the Lord seems to be proposing a division between our usual lives and our so-called spiritual lives. Sort of like Sunday Christianity, when people act like Christians only when they go to Sunday services. As for the rest of the week, they act “normally”–that is, not in any particularly religious or even moral way.
In his monologue at a Saturday Night Live (SNL) episode, comedian Aziz Ansari warns against stereotyping the people who had voted for Trump–except for that group of people who, as soon as Trump won, told themselves: “Hey, we don’t have to pretend like we’re not racist anymore! Whoo!’”
Today’s Sunday Gospel is about forgiveness: Peter, on the one hand, monitoring his quota on forgiveness, and our Lord, on the other, tossing all that accounting out the window by reminding us that by the way, we all of us are recipients of the Father’s boundless mercy, remember?
Sting sang a little-known, but heartbreaking song at the Oscars last February. The song is called “Empty Chair,” from the film, “Jim,” which is about the journalist James Foley, who had been beheaded by the Islamic State three years ago.