The earliest followers of Jesus eventually discovered they had to answer an important question. What did he expect them to do while they waited for him to return?
It's clear from today's I Thessalonians passage that they thought his Parousia would take place very soon. One of the reasons Paul writes this letter is to address the anxieties of those who have difficulty handling the delay in Jesus' triumphant return. It seems almost everyone has an opinion about what "time or season" would be the time or season in which he'd finally come.
The Apostle first assures his friends that, in spite of the delay, the "day of the Lord" will certainly come. But, like labor pains and home break-ins, it's almost impossible to predict an exact time. Those trying to develop "formulas" for pinpointing the Parousia are wasting their time.
On the other hand, Christians aren't just to sit around all day twiddling their thumbs, looking at the sky. Paul says, "You are children of the light and children of the day. We are not of the night or of darkness. Let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober." In other words, "We've got work to do!" One need only glance at Paul's letters to learn how alert and sober people should be filling their day.
No doubt he (and lots of husbands) would be happy with our Proverbs picture of the "worthy wife."
She certainly doesn't spend her day watching the soaps or playing bridge. Not only is she occupied in doing things which benefit her family, she also "reaches out her hands to the poor, and extends her arms to the needy." Just in case we don't get the message, the writer ends by reminding us, "Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who fears Yahweh is to be praised."
It's up to Matthew's Jesus to give us a somewhat different twist on how we're to spend our time. This parable is so well-known that the word designating an ancient middle-East coin - a talent - eventually morphed into a term designating an individual's natural, God-given gifts.
No one can miss the point: God expects us to develop and increase our talents. But Jesus' parable goes deeper than just that surface message. Notice how the one-talented slave defends his inaction: "Out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground."
There's always a risk in using and expanding the gifts God gives us. We could use them to go in the wrong direction. Jesus doesn't want such a fear to stop us from employing our gifts to open new doors for ourselves and others along our life's path. It depends on whether we choose to focus on the risk or the better future.
A former coach of our local NFL franchise, frustrated by his quarterback's habit of throwing interceptions, had his video staff string together all the unfortunate individual's mistakes, then forced the embarrassed player to watch them. He eventually threw more interceptions that year than he had the year before.
The next year the team's new coach also forced the quarterback to watch a video of his performance. But this time it chronicled all his completions. That was the year he led his team to the playoffs.
Pope John XXIII took a big risk beginning in 1958 when he led us down an unfamiliar road. He used his unique personality to halt his church's 400 year old stance of arguing with non-Catholic religions. Quite a risk for an organization which found great security in maintaining such a polemic.
I thank God for John's courage in taking that risk, especially when Protestant ministers tell me these commentaries help in their homily preparation.
Fearless leaders are certainly a gift from God.