In last weeks column, we saw that Jesus delayed Parousia had a deep effect
on how people theologized about life after death. This week, the Sunday readings center on
this life, and Jesus delayed Second coming again plays a key role.
Writing to the Thessalonian community around 50, Paul deals with the question on
everyones mind: Whens Jesus coming back? Early Christians, geared to expected
His immediate arrival, are beginning to speculate on the "times and seasons"
which will have to take place before He comes (I Thes 5:1-6).
Paul composes his passage against a background of Parousia hysteria. His goal: to
change the communitys focus. Instead of zeroing in on the next life, he concentrates
on this life.
He begins by reminding his people that Jesus Second Coming isnt an event on
which one can speculate. "The day of the Lord," he writes, "will comes like
a thief at night. When people are saying, Peace and security, then sudden
disaster comes upon them, like labor pains upon a pregnant woman."
Like people sleeping, those who concentrate solely on the next life miss whats
happening in this life. "We are not of the night or of darkness," Paul reminds
the Thessalonians. "Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert
Since the concept of an afterlife, as we know it, entered Jewish thought only about a
hundred years before Jesus birth, Paul could use the vast majority of the Hebrew
Scriptures to develop his argument on the importance of this life. We hear, for instance,
in the first reading (Prov 31: 10-13, 19-20, 30-31), that the wife most praised is the
wife who makes the most out of her everyday situation.
"She obtains wool and flax,....puts her hand to the distaff,....reaches out her
hands to the poor.....Give her a reward for her labors, and let her works praise her at
the city gates." A wifes value is measured in what she accomplishes right here
Jesus well-known parable about the talents seems to agree with this opinion (Mt
25:14-30). Matthew deliberately places the story after the wise virgins/foolish virgins
parable, and immediately before his final judgment narrative. The context helps us
understand its meaning.
The first story warns us to be prepared for Jesus arrival; the last gives the
subject matter for His final exam. This middle passage tells us to throw caution to the
wind in carrying out whatever Jesus wants us to do in this life. (Well have to wait
till next week to find out what that is!)
Theres no doubt who the "man going on a journey" is. Matthews
community knows of only one person who has left and promised to return, one person who
gave them everything they needed to be fulfilled in this life. The problem is that real
fulfillment comes only when they use what Jesus gave.
Only the first two take what theyve been given, trade with them and double their
holdings. The eventual reward for being adventurous with the man-on -the-journeys
money is immense: "Well done, my good and faithful servants. Since you were faithful
in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your masters
The servant who plays it safe and returns only what was given doesnt fare as
well. "Take the talent and give it to the one with ten. For to everyone who has, more
will be given; but from the one who has not, even that will be taken away."
Matthews parable zeroes in on those members of his community who are going
through life just treading water, looking to the sky for Jesus return, but never
going out of themselves to risk building relations with others (as well see next
week). One day, theyll have nothing. Those who risk themselves by entering such
relations will discover they have more than they could ever have imagined more than
the risk ever entailed.