In the Gospel today, the Lord has asked us to stand vigilant. He says:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Gird your loins and light your lamps
and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding,
ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.
Blessed are those servants
whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.
Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself,
have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them.
And should he come in the second or third watch
and find them prepared in this way,
blessed are those servants.” (Luke 12: 35-38)
Stand watch. I think that we all know what he means. But let’s try to delve a little more into the image and what it might mean for our lives.
There are several images for “those who watch” in Scripture.
Part of the image that the Lord gives us is a military one. The soldier is supposed to stand at his post and watch for potential enemies. If the soldier abandons his post, he can be subject to severe punishment, which could be imprisonment, beatings, or even death. If he does not stay well trained enough to deal with the conflicts that he meets during his watch, he can be punished for that as well. If he falls asleep on the job, he can be punished for that as well. More importantly than being punished, however, is that other people can suffer harm because the quality of the solider’s vigil is poor. The military image emphasizes that we should be ready for extreme Christian combat. In Romans 13, St. Paul tells us that we should wake from sleep and put on our armor, being ready for the combat that lay in store for us. Can you think of anything less comfortable to put on than a suit of armor? It appears that one of the last things that God wants for us is “comfort,” because comfort can make the soul so “fat and happy” that it no longer yearns for its God. This kind of vigil is not comfortable, but I guarantee that when the demons come screaming with their temptations, you will be glad that you are wearing the armor of prayer, good deeds, fasting and sacraments!
The image of a watchman need not be a military one. In the Gospel quoted above, it is important to realize that the Lord actually doesn’t speak of punishment here for those who fail to watch; but he DOES speak of blessing for those who DO watch.
There is another major image that Jesus uses for the watchman. And that is the image of the Bridegroom. In a Jewish wedding, the Bridegroom often went on a journey in order to get to the wedding. His appearance at the wedding was often a complete surprise to the crowd, and it was the job of the bridesmaids and groomsmen to announce the coming of the bridegroom. But what happens if you are sleeping or drunk or just get lazy because the bridegroom is taking too long? The wedding image emphasizes that we should be waiting with eagerness and joy for something wonderful.
There is still another image of watching that is used in Scripture, which is that of a shepherd watching over his flocks. We all know the story of how King David killed both a lion and a bear with his sling as he watched over the flocks of his father, Jesse. Like David, we are supposed to be watching over our flock as well. Did you know that in Medjugorje, the Blessed Mother herself uses an image of David watching over his flocks to teach Christians what we are supposed to be doing as we wait for the Lord? She calls the following activities the “five stones” that Christians can hurl at Satan to bring him down, just as King David brought down Goliath, the lion, and the bear.
The five stones are the following: (See http://www.medjugorje.org/ol5step.htm for a summary.)
- Prayer of the Heart
- Dailing reading of the bible
- The Eucharist
So the military image stresses readiness for combat, the wedding image stresses waiting with eagerness, and the shepherd image emphasizes taking care of others. All of the images stress that there is some great responsibility that must be taken care of. In all of them, we are told to BE READY.
Did you know that one of the main practices of the ancient monks is to rise in the middle of the night and “wait on the Lord,” in fulfillment of his several commands to watch? This was one common practice that they observed during Lent.
Sometimes it can be hard to pray unless we have a concrete images to act as a kind of “raw material” for our meditations. These images give us something to chew on. Something to imagine as we pray, which can lead to a very powerful experience with our Lord.
Does one of these images speak to you more than another? Military readiness, waiting for the wedding, the diligence of the shepherd? What might that tell you about your prayer life? One final image of being vigilant is when Jesus asks his disciples to WATCH AND PRAY with him in his Agony in the Garden (which they failed to do diligently). Isn’t it touching that we have a Savior that doesn’t just minister to us, but asks us to minister to HIM sometimes? He doesn’t want simply inactive adoration–he wants us to share in his ministry of defending, announcing and caring for others. I have found that this insight alone can help reinvigorate one’s relationship with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who wants our heart to keep company with his.
Spiritual Principle #2: God doesn’t desire only to minister to us, but became low enough to desire that we minister to him. One main way that we can do this is to “keep watch” with Him!