November 17, 2013 – Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
This weekend is the 33rd and last numbered Sunday in Ordinary Time for this liturgical year. Recall that Ordinary does not refer to “average” or “normal,” but to time outside our two great seasons of celebration — Lent and Easter, and Advent and Christmas. Next Sunday is the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (Christ the King).
The readings for this weekend ask the stewardship question, “What are the obstacles which stand between you and holiness, between you and lives of stewardship?” The Liturgical year more or less follows Jesus’ life on earth. Therefore, it is appropriate that the Gospel for this Sunday is drawn from Luke 21, which is Christ’s last discourse with His Apostles and us prior to the Passion (which in the Gospel of Luke begins with Luke 22).
All three readings are complex, and we must listen carefully to grasp the stewardship significance of them. There is a finality to them. The first reading is from the prophetic Book of Malachi, the absolute last Book of the Old Testament. Malachi is also the 12th Book of the Minor Prophets, the number 12 having particular implication in Scripture from the Twelve Tribes of Israel to the Twelve Apostles.
Malachi means “God’s messenger.” The Book was written to address what was seen as a laxity among the Israelites in relation to their practice of their faith. It thus also reminds us, especially as we prepare for Advent, of our need to sharpen our senses, our prayer lives, and our faith lives. God has made promises to us, but for us to reap the benefits of those promises we must delve more deeply into our faith as good stewards and good Catholics.
The second reading from Saint Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians augments Malachi’s call to put our faith lives in order. Paul says in effect, and this again is germane to our preparations for Advent, “This is not time to be idle.” We have often said that stewardship is active, not passive. As good stewards our preparations for Advent and Christmas should provide opportunities for more prayer, more contemplation, and more dynamic outreach to those in need. Paul reminds us that there is time enough to rest in Heaven, not while here when we can have a positive impact on those around us.
The Gospel from Luke pinpoints some of the major obstacles to stewardship as a way of life. He focuses on two in particular: wealth and power. As is usually the case in Scriptural teachings, wealth in and of itself is not judged to be bad. However, when wealth and the accumulation of wealth detract us from being good stewards and sharing with others, it can be adverse to our spiritual health. Jesus prompts us that spiritual endurance does not come from human strength but from God’s love and the power it provides us. Our desire for power is not good, but our willingness to allow God’s love and power to help us live out stewardship is virtuous.
It is worth mentioning that this Gospel passage immediately follows the Lesson of the Widow’s Mites (Luke 21: 1-4). Consequently, we can clearly see the stewardship statement here: Do not aspire to wealth or power, but like the widow, strive to give from your want, your poverty, not from your excess. That is excellent preparation for the glory of Advent and Christmas.