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.
This homily was delivered on the Solemnity of Christ the King.
Back in 2004, I visited the Jesuit school for the disabled in Cambodia. From the moment I stepped out of the airport in Phnom Penh, I noticed that every major road and every other street corner displayed the picture of one man. My companions informed me that a week before, Cambodia had just crowned a new king, Sihamoni, to succeed his father. To celebrate the occasion and to show their acceptance of the new king, all of Cambodia put up his pictures everywhere, from medium-sized photographs to gigantic billboards. As a result, no tourist—and certainly no Cambodian—had any excuse to claim that he does not recognize the new king.
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!’”