Updated: Sep 19, 2022
Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE]
It never ceases to amaze me that when God chose to reveal himself definitively to the human race, he did so by becoming human—truly; by being conceived in the womb, by being born, by being raised by human parents, and by being initiated into a culture in a certain time and place in history.
An aspect of our humanity is the learning of languages. Jesus spoke Hebrew and Aramaic; and very likely to a certain degree, Greek and Latin. And as it is with any language, that included the use of idioms.
An idiom is a figure of speech that has a meaning that goes beyond the literal meaning, like when we say, “it’s raining cats and dogs, or don’t be the cart before the horse, or hold your horses, etc.”
In our gospel passage today, Jesus uses a certain idiom. He says, “Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return…”. Gird your loins… what does that mean? I’ll show you…. Please don’t expect me to ever do an expert demonstration like this on a regular basis [loin girding demonstration and explanation].
Now, why would anyone gird their loins? Long ago, both men and women wore robes daily. They were practical for daily life. They block the sun during the day and keep one warm at night. One size fits all for adults. But they’re not quite practical for hard labor or for battle. Hence, the girding of loins.
The girding of loins was very practical for demanding work, just like a comfy pair of shorts for us is practical. Think of a malo that a Hawaiian warrior might wear. Or a mawashi worn by a sumo wrestler.
When Jesus said to the disciples, “gird your loins,” and be ready, it was like saying, “man up,” or “toughen up, you’re not a child.” The Master of the house will be returning on an unknown day at an unknown hour. The time of comfort is over and there is work to do before the Master’s return.
What work is Jesus talking about? He’s speaking about our relationships. Through parable, he tells us to do good in our relationship and to avoid wrongdoing.
“Who, then, is the faithful and prudent steward whom the master will put in charge of his servants to distribute the food allowance at the proper time?” Jesus is talking about the relationship between servants. How are we nurturing our relationships? Are we feeding them properly, and at the proper time?
I'm going to use the example of plants, since there's an easy connection to whether they thrive or not due to our care or neglect. When it comes to plants, there’s a danger to watering plants too often or too infrequently. There’s a danger to watering them too much or too little at a time. Different plants require different levels and schedules of care. They need to be nourished at the proper times.
Too much water may make the roots rot. Too little, and they’ll dry out. Too frequently, and the roots may be shallow. Too infrequently, and the plant could shed branches or leaves. The same is true with our relationships. They all require care and feeding at the proper times and with the proper amount. Parents know this. They know how each of their children are different and require different approaches.
But Jesus says more is needed than simply doing good in our relationships. We must also avoid wrongdoing in our relationships. “If that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, to eat and drink and get drunk, then that servant’s master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish the servant severely and assign him a place with the unfaithful.”
In short, we’re supposed to feed others and serve others; not eat all the food and drink the soda, and abuse others, either physically or emotionally. This is not easy. It's work. So let us gird our loins to get to work.
Our Lord calls us to be ready for his return. This world belongs to him. It’s his house that we are living in. The actions of the servants in our parable were understood with the end in view. They did the master’s will in his absence because he would surely return, and reward or punish them according to their actions. It was the master’s return that guided their actions. They served according to the needs of the time, but it was the future judgment of the master that governed their present actions.
The same is true with regard to our actions. Our Lord’s glorious return is certain. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. His eyes will be opened to all of creation, and all things are known to him. The future judgment of the Lord is the truth that must guide our actions today. May the Lord give us his grace to do his will, in this life and the next.
The Life of Christ, by Gaudenzio Ferrari, 16th century. Fresco.