by Father Mike Stubbs
Some individuals have to travel as part of their work. Perhaps they are employed as a sales representative. Or maybe their work has to be done onsite. And frequently, when people take a vacation, they go on a trip.
Two thousand years ago, travel was far less common than it is now. People did not go on vacations. Many did not venture more than a few miles from where they were born throughout their entire life. That is one reason why some of the parables of Jesus stand out.
Several include a recurrent theme: a master who leaves on a journey. Eventually, he returns. Sunday’s Gospel reading presents one such parable: “A man going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them” (Mt 25:14-30).
Similarly, we hear in another parable: “There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey” (Mt 21: 33).
Also, in the same vein, we hear still another parable: “But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is long delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants and eat and drink with drunkards, the servant’s master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour” (Mt 24:48-50).
In all these cases, it is easy to identify the master with God. It is also easy to identify his return with the Second Coming of Christ, with its accompanying judgment.
The location of these parables in the Gospel slants us toward that interpretation. That location is perhaps the result of an editorial decision on the part of the evangelist. They are placed close to the teachings of Jesus concerning the end times.
It is natural, then, to focus on the unexpected arrival of the master. That interpretation of the parables impresses upon us our need to be prepared for the end of the world.
At the same time, we might consider another aspect of these parables. They all involve a master who is absent — at least for a while.
Similarly, God sometimes appears to be absent from our world. Consider the horrible outrages that human beings inflict on each other — the killing, maiming and wounding through war and crime. Where is God in all of this?
The parables can cause us to reflect upon God’s apparent absence from our world. Where does that leave us? What do we do meanwhile?
Do we despair that God will ever be in our world? Or do we patiently hope and pray that God will be present one day?