"Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. Assuredly, I say to you that he will make ruler over all his goods. But if that evil servant says in his heart, 'My master is delaying his coming,' and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
- Matthew 24:45-51
Jesus has been giving warnings to His disciples, both about the destruction that is to come in Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans, including the loss of the temple, and about Jesus' own return, His Second Coming. This discourse began with a question from His disciples in Saturday's reading. In yesterday's reading, Jesus taught the parable of the fig tree and the summertime: when they see the things He's taught them about, the time is near. He then went on to teach more about His Second Coming, saying, "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only." He says that it will be like the days of Noah -- everyone will be going about their work, living their lives, and this will happen in an instant. The important warning He gives to His disciples is that they must be prepared for this time. "Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect."
"Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. Assuredly, I say to you that he will make ruler over all his goods." How shall Jesus' disciples await His Return? What does it mean to be a "faithful and wise servant" and "to give them food in due season?" What Jesus expects is for His disciples to discharge their duties to the flock, as He has taught. The analogy to giving food can be made for the spiritual work of giving spiritual food to those in this "house." We are now in the territory of what it is to be good servants while the master is gone, as we await His return in the period of time in which we currently dwell, and upon our ability to do so, Judgment takes place. We have responsibilities to discharge to the others of the house. The rewards will be great for those servants who faithfully discharge their duties.
"But if that evil servant says in his heart, 'My master is delaying his coming,' and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." And here is the warning, about hypocrisy, those who call themselves His servants and fail to do their duties to the household. Here this "evil servant" mistreats and beats his fellow servants, abusing his power. This is a servant who eats and drinks with drunkards: people who are perpetually intoxicated, forgetful, surfeited with the things of this world -- and prone to violence and anger. It is a person who forgets all the responsibilities with which the master has charged him, all of the teachings of Jesus about servanthood and leadership. Then judgment will fall on that servant, who is not a servant at all but one who abuses His position. So, here is a deep warning to His followers -- and a further commentary on leadership and servanthood in His Church, in the period of time in which we now dwell, as we await His return.
It is a crucial part of this teaching that we remain awake (not drunken) and alert to the possibility that the Master may return at any time. We must think doubly strongly now about Jesus' teachings on leadership, and what it is to be a servant in His Church. That is because the warnings about judgment and the swiftness of His return -- without warning -- come now as Jesus prepares them for His Passion, death and Resurrection. In yesterday's reading, we remarked on Jesus' warning about watchfulness. We must be prepared for His return at any and all times. Here, there is yet another emphatic component to the need for watchfulness. As we conduct ourselves in this period of awaiting His return, so will His judgment be of His servants. It gives us a kind of double warning: not only do we not know the time of His return, but the God who sees all, who is the knower-of-hearts, will judge His servants by their conduct while He is away. So, in today's reading there is added emphasis on the need to be mindful, to remain aware of His teachings about what it is to be faithful and wise servants -- especially how we live in relation to the other servants and practice His form of servant-leadership, or whether we live in forgetfulness, and lawlessness in the form of forgetting His teachings in our own conduct. Here, the lessons of leadership Jesus has taught them since Peter's confession of faith come into play. He who would be great among them must be the servant of all, "just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many." Who then is a faithful and wise servant?