Proverbs 31:10-13, 16-18, 20, 26, 28-31
1 Thessalonians 5:1-6
In August this year our family celebrated my mother's 90th birthday. All of her children, and many of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren were in attendance. Seeing the room filled with the fruits of much of her life's prayer and work I experienced awe, wonder and gratitude at how her life of faith has spilled over into the lives of so many others. For me, she exemplifies, as do many parents or strong individuals of firm faith in our lives, the primary themes in the readings for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: to place the whole of ourselves and our gifts at the service of family, community and creation for the glory of God, to live fully the "kairos" moment, and to live in the light with trust.
The first reading from Proverbs paints the picture of a strong and "capable" wife. The image is one of an industrious woman who has the confidence of her husband, children and community. She is active, creative and wise as she "seeks" the goods for making clothing, and "works with willing hands." She "considers" the purchase of property, "girds herself with strength and makes her arms strong," sells her merchandise (presumably things she has herself crafted and created). She gives readily to the poor, lifts up the needy, offers words of wisdom and kindness to all she meets. And what is the source of her bright, cheerful and creative life? Not beauty or charm, but her "fear of the Lord is to be praised." This is hardly the image of a weak, subservient woman, but of a powerful one charged with the gifts of God; tempered in humility or "fear of the Lord."
"Fear of the Lord" continues as a theme into the psalm prayer. To fear the Lord is to "walk in God's way," and implies awe and wonder at God's works in, through and beyond all of creation. In the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Scripture, "fear of the Lord" is the spiritual path to union with God. It means apprehending God's presence and activity both as transcending everything and at work inside of everything in such a way that we are awake to the subtle rhythms, needs, growth and seeds in the people and planet we serve. Through these we are called forth to fuller life. We collaborate with God's breath of life to dance or celebrate life's goodness, to restore balance where rhythms and harmony have been lost, to be healers of so many social and individual ills, and to water and feed the lives of others for their good and growth. To live in "the fear of the Lord" is to have fullness of life in our hearts, homes, families, communities and lands.
This is not the same kind of "fear" that is spoken of in Matthew's Gospel reading. In this parable we hear of the unique gift given to each "servant," and how one of these servants out of craven fear hides or buries his "talent." It begs the question, when my time comes, and I am face to face with my Maker just beyond death's door, will my life be one lived fearfully and selfishly, without risk? Or will it be one lived courageously and selflessly with creative works and actions that light up the unique colours of my personality and place in the world in relationship with others and the planet?
We are nearing the end of the liturgical season of Ordinary Time, and so our readings are reminding us that we are living in "end" times, or "eschatological" times. This basically means being reminded that we are mortal and our lives will come to an end without our necessarily knowing when or how! As the second reading to the Thessalonians says, "the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night" or like "labour pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape." To contemplate this is to hopefully receive the grace to see ourselves as we truly are in our relationships with everything and everyone. Then, having faced ourselves honestly, we open ourselves to meeting the challenge of the Gospel to live courageously in the present moment, using the gifts and talents we have until we are used up; until there is nothing left in us but that wide awake, sober clarity of light radiating through us as beloved of God.
Leduc is director for Star of the North Retreat Centre in St. Albert, Alta.